How to disclose a mental illness to your employer.

Navigating conversations about mental illness can be complicated, especially when they happen at work. Many people think mental health is a strictly private issue, but depending on your condition you may feel compelled to tell your employer about it if it means getting the support you need. Of course how much you disclose is completely up to you, but being forthcoming with your human resources manager could be beneficial. The better your employer understands your situation the more they can do to help you feel comfortable and be more productive at work.

So where do you start?

Like all crucial conversations it helps to have a plan before you approach your employer. Here are a few things to consider:

  • How are you going to describe your mental illness/condition?
  • Are you okay with your employer knowing the finer details about your mental health, or would you prefer to keep it high-level?
  • How is your illness/condition affecting your job performance?
  • What can your employer do to help you?

Answering these questions in advance will enable you to approach the conversation with confidence and a clear goal. The last question is particularly important because it will give your employer an action plan. For example, they might be able to address your needs through your employee benefits plan, or at least make reasonable accommodations to improve your work routine. Your employer might also find it useful to learn more about the challenges you’re facing so be ready to provide them with informative websites, pamphlets, etc.

Setting up the meeting

Where and when you have the meeting are important factors to consider. Because this is such a sensitive issue, it’s best to have this conversation in person. Ensure that you have enough time to talk things through without feeling rushed, and if you have any control, arrange to meet somewhere private where you’ll feel more at ease. And if you notice yourself getting a little nervous beforehand try rehearsing either alone or with someone who supports you. It might seem unnecessary, but practicing what you’re going to say will help you focus on your key points and take some of the pressure off.

Emphasize your commitment to your job

Your employer needs to understand that the purpose of this conversation is to help you do the best job you can. Remind them that you care about your role in the organization and your colleagues, and that you’ve brought this to their attention intending to be the best employee possible. Not only will they appreciate your dedication, but you’ll also be making the larger case for better mental health in the workplace.

Know your rights

Some people are reluctant to disclose their mental condition for fear of being mistreated or even losing their job. Unfortunately, we live in a society where mental illness is still generally misunderstood, but more and more workplaces are starting to recognize the value of promoting good mental health. Regardless of where your organization stands, however, you’re always protected against discrimination under the law. This means it’s illegal for your employer to fire you, deny you a promotion, or force you to take leave for having a mental health condition. Below are a couple of resources if you’d like to learn more.

Their support should be ongoing

Let your employer know the conversation doesn’t end here. Chances are you’re not the only employee dealing with a mental health problem, so improving access to mental health resources would be beneficial to your entire organization. This is where we come in. Our online library of video trainings, podcasts, and tip sheets is packed with expert advice on mental health and employee well-being. We’re available 24/7 to help employees deal with issues like depression, stress, and anxiety. To find out more about how we can advocate for mental health in your workplace, have your HR representative book a demo with us today.


Also published on Medium.