Mental Health Should You Inform Your Workplace - Wellbeing and Wellness

Mental Health: Should You Inform Your Workplace?

The risks of telling your workplace about your mental health issues can dependant on where you work, and where you live. If you’re in a care role, especially in the UK, you often get really great support around mental health, as they’re aware such roles have a high burnout rate. Thus supporting you is very much in their best interest. However, other jobs and businesses might not be so understanding, even in this day in age.

 

First off, you’re under no legal obligation to tell your workplace about your health or mental health conditions. However, there are a few situations where you are required to tell your employer.

  1. Your employer can ask you about your health if it directly relates to the job role. Therefore, if you’re applying for a truck driver role then they can ask about your eyesight.
  2. If it’s written in the employment contract and is related to your ability to do the job, then you’re required to share the relevant information with them.
  3. If you have a medical condition that might affect the safety of your coworkers and/or the general public, then you also have to tell your employer. Failing to do so in this instance could result in you being charged with negligence, should anything happen.

 

A survey of 44,000 employees revealed that half of those who had experienced poor mental health had talked to their employer about it, suggesting that as many as one in four UK workers is struggling in silence Click To Tweet

 

Pro’s of Telling Your Workplace

 

If you’re working in the NHS or other healthcare roles, you normally get a lot of support if you’re struggling with your mental health, because there’s a high turnover rate in that line of work. You’re also very well protected when working for the NHS because it’s national health care service. Thus, they’ll try to make your hours more flexible for your needs.

 

You’ll also be able to claim paid sick leave in the UK. When I worked for a substance abuse charity, a lot of the staff were former clients with past substance dependency problems, as such, they had health issues caused by those times. I saw that they got a lot of support around those health issues to make sure they could continue working there. Good staff are hard to find in that line of work due to the high turnover and burnout rates.

 

If your mental health condition is considered a disability, then informing your workplace means they’re required by law to make reasonable adjustments to allow you to do your job.

 

It’s illegal to be discriminated against because of a mental health or health condition, so it can be to your advantage to share these with your employer to create an honest work environment. Thus, it could take a weight off your shoulders to do so.

 

It can protect your employment. If you’re asked about health issues during the interview and/or during a health questionnaire, but you don’t mention anything about a recurrent mental health problem that does end up affecting your work, then your employer could argue that you’ve breached the duty of mutual trust and confidence. If you then find yourself dealing with a dismissal case for a non- health reason, you wouldn’t be able to use your recurrent health problem as a defence as you hadn’t declared it.

 

As I said in ‘What To Do When Your Cries For Help Are Ignored‘, your organisation might have support for mental health support in place, which you could then access if you don’t mind some members of your workplace knowing.

 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA), even American’s can’t be fired for having a disability or mental health condition. Which, to be honest, I’m kind of surprised about. Thus, under American law, reasonable accommodations should be made to help you with your job. However, the ADA doesn’t apply to businesses with under 15 employees, so take care if you’re working for a small business.

 

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Con’s of Telling Your Workplace

 

Although the world is becoming more understanding of mental health conditions, there’s still the risk of stigma to deal with. Plus, as the ADA seems to suggest, if you’re working for a small business, then you don’t benefit from its protection. Thus, the stigma around mental health could become a real issue for you.

 

Your workplace might try to overcompensate in their approach to supporting you after you informed them of your mental health issues. They might be doing this with the best intentions, but the results of which could be a problem for you.

 

Unconscious bias. Your manager or boss might not realise they’re treating you differently, but a lot of people have unconscious biases around things they don’t really understand. This should be less of an issue if your workplace has unconscious bias training. Lots of workplaces have started implementing this in the wake of black lives matter. However, if you feel this is happening to you and your point it out, they’ll more than likely do something to address the problem.

 

Mental Health Should You Inform Your Workplace - Wellbeing and Wellness

 

My Cautionary Workplace Tale

 

I had an unfortunate encounter with my placement while doing my post-graduate degree. I applied for a volunteer alcohol practitioner role with a substance abuse charity. I applied for this placement because I needed to work with clients to get my clinical hours in order to complete my course, needing 50 hours to write a case study and a total of 100 hours for my course. 

 

During the interview, they asked about health and mental health issues, so I told them about my heart condition and that I’ve got borderline personality disorder (BPD). Although I didn’t tell them about my anxiety disorders, because multiple mental health disorders would seem too much. I was interviewed for a role and offered the position as soon as the interview was completed. They asked, so I told them in case my health issues would require me taking time off, which my heart condition has caused me to do before.

 

The role perfectly met my course requirement, according to the job description, so I accept the position. Why wouldn’t I? I’d worked for a different branch of this charity before for several years, so I didn’t foresee there being any problems. But that would turn out to be a mistake.

 

For some reason, everything went downhill from there. The manager put me in a position that wasn’t the one I was interviewed for and which didn’t allow me to get any of the client hours I need. So that wasn’t a great start, but I did the job away hoping it was a temporary position. Unfortunately, it turned out to be temporary in a way I didn’t expect.

 

The role was an outreach service at a satellite site, but the person I was working with was hired on a short term contract that was going to end two weeks after I started. They didn’t know what I would be doing after their contract ended, I didn’t know what I was doing afterwards (not for the wanting of asking the manager to find out), and it would seem the manager didn’t know either.

 

The manager in charge of me there was substandard with replying to my communications, so after that two weeks, I had no place to go to work as I couldn’t be at the satellite site without a paid worker being there, and I hadn’t been given anything else to do.

 

Even though I’d stated numerous times why I had applied for the role, what I needed to get from the role, and what my deadline was for achieving it,  nothing was happening. I’d told this manager that information in my application, during the interview, and subsequently, in all my communications with the manager. I’d done this role before at a different branch of the charity, so it was a simple thing to arrange, but it never got sorted out.

 

I spent months chasing up and waiting on replies from this manager to get my hours but to no avail. It just didn’t make sense, if they needed me to do some training first, then start me on the training. If they needed me to shadow a paid worker’s client load, then just hand me off to one of the paid workers and let us get on with it. It really wasn’t a hand thing to sort out, I’d been through this once before already at the other branch of this service.

 

Months passed nothing. The manager just kept telling me to wait and they’d get back to me, but they never did. Which left me with a huge problem. I couldn’t complete my course work, I couldn’t complete my 100 hours, and I couldn’t complete my course because of this.

 

Because of the situation, I had to apply for extenuating circumstances with my university to be allowed to repeat the module. Winning the appeal would mean I would have to pay to repeat the module, several thousand pounds I simply couldn’t afford; if my appeal was unsuccessful, I would have failed my course and wasted a tonne of money on tuition. I couldn’t believe I’d been put in this situation.

 

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Thus, I made a complaint to the charity as there was a lot of money on the line and my postgraduate degree. I mean, I’d interviewed and been given a specific job, but never got to actually do that job, and I wanted to know why. I was also going to use this complaint as part of m evidence for my extenuating circumstances claim with my university.

 

There was seriously no reason why this situation should have come about, and the only reason why it would is if you’re inapt at your managerial role. It would literally take one email or a quick chat with the alcohol practitioner team to allocate me to one of them, then they’d take over.

 

I also wanted to make sure this wouldn’t happen again with someone else from my course if they applied here. Therefore, I was hoping this complaint would mean they’d put things in place, like establishing a proper pathway needed to fulfil that role, clearly laid out, and initiated when they start in the role.

 

However, they didn’t care that this manager had put my postgraduate degree at risk, they didn’t care that they’d cost me thousands of pounds in doing so, and they didn’t care that it was going to cost me further thousands to redo it. All the charity cared about was covering their own asses and trying to insinuate it was somehow my fault because of my mental health, even though it wasn’t a factor in any of it.

 

In the letter they sent me, it had the following paragraph:

The suggestion that applications are screened by the volunteer counsellor and Psychological Interventions Lead means it will help ensure that the volunteer is allocated to the most appropriate area of work

 

Somehow they seem to think it was my mental health’s fault for why this manager couldn’t execute a simple task. To this day, I have no idea why this manager didn’t do one of these two super easy options of starting my training or allocating me someone to shadow.

 

This is why you need to be careful, your place of work will try to pass the blame from them to you if they know you have a mental health problem.

 

Because I was a volunteer, I wasn’t protected by the same rights as an employee would be, and because of that, I had to pay for resiting an entire module due to this one manager.

 

What made all this worse, when I was working at the other branch of this substance abuse charity, I’d worked there with the person that had interviewed me, who was also the manager I’d been talking about.

 

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Summary

 

Don’t be put off by my story, mine was an unfortunate and unique situation, and I was a volunteer worker. As such, I wasn’t protected by any of the usual employee rights and laws.

 

There are more positives than negatives to informing your workplace about your mental health, but unless your mental health is a continuous problem that may affect your work or the safety of others, then you’re not required to tell your workplace. Therefore there’s no pressure to do so.

 

But if you want to tell your workplace for other reasons or because you feel you need support through them, then I hope this article will help you with that decision. It might also be helpful to do a cost/benefit analysis yourself on the matter, to help guide your decision.

 

Lastly, if you are looking for support for your mental health then it may be a good idea to start by looking for support elsewhere first, checking out my Global Crisis Lines And Support page might be a good place to start. If you can get your support elsewhere, then it might mean you won’t need to tell your workplace anymore.

 

As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of informing your workplace about your mental health in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up to my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications of new posts by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom left corner.

 

Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog then you can make a donation of any size below as well. Until next time, Unwanted Life readers.

 

 

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For More Information

 

Gov.uk – Reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.

NHS – Returning to work after mental health issues.

Mind – Discrimination at work.

Law Care – Disclosing mental health in the workplace.

Mental Health America – Can I be fired for my mental illness?

 

Support

 

Mind – You can contact Mind for support around these issues.

Mental Health At Work – Resources to support workplace mental health.

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65 thoughts on “Mental Health: Should You Inform Your Workplace?

  1. Its appalling that your experience was so unsupportive. I think so much can depend on your manager. My previous manager was wonderful when I went through a loss and accommodated the timescale that suited me for my return to work. Similarly I know he did loads to help a colleague with Aspergers and anxiety be able to work in the office with time working remotely as well to balance his needs. I hope your future experiences are more positive.

  2. A tragic story indeed, and one I am sure too many people can relate to. It is easy to be able to want to open up and talk about mental health, but there are so many unconscious biases out there to combat, so people are often left wondering what to do and end up doing nothing. It takes courage to face biases!

    I am hopeful that people will start being more intentional moving forward. There are some mediocre people out there, and there are also some great people out there, who help others when help is needed. My aim is to be one of the great people. 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this!

    • You’re right about there being both great and mediocre people out there, such is the world we live in. But I have faith that you are already one of those great people

  3. You have a lot of really useful information in this post. I have a friend who loses jobs all the time due to his mental health issues. Will share this with him.

  4. I am so sorry you experienced stigma! I work in HR and reading your story reminded why I go so hard for the importance of mental healthcare and ensuring that my employees feel supported and provided with resources. I’ve seen this happen often in the US and it is truly discouraging. This year seems to be the first year that mental health is in the spotlight in HR, in the sense that more companies are looking for employees benefits that aim to mental healthcare. Hopefully, these new trends will remove the stigma of mental health in the workplace.

    • Given the extra strain on people’s mental health caused by the pandemic, I really hope businesses are trying to do more to protect their employees mental health. I also hope that continues when the pandemic is over

  5. It’s such a challenging decision to make. A few years ago, I opened up and discussed my own personal struggles with an employer. I had just started an outpatient eating disorder treatment program that would require me leaving work a little early once a week and I was reaching out to them to find a solution in which I would make up the time during lunches, etc the rest of the week. While the company was incredibly accommodating for the time off, I found that it wasn’t long before I started experiencing the unconscious bias that you mentioned. It was so frustrating – I second guessed my decision to open up, to start treatment at that time, etc. I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worse enemy.

    • Sorry to hear about your experience with unconscious bias after opening up, I hope things are different now? I also hope the treatment programme you were attending was successful in supporting your needs and helped you reach your recovery goals

  6. I am still in a state of shock as to how unpleasant your experience was and how unethical and sour the workplace turned out to be. But I am also so proud of the courage that you behold that you could voice it out so beautifully.

  7. Good post. I work at a mental health unit, and in some cases, it allows us to empathize more with our patients. I know I certainly have as a result of my recent bout with depression. Thanks for sharing.

  8. This is an important topic you’ve covered. And that you provided insight from multiple angles, including if you’re working for a small business and as a volunteer is great. I also think it’s extremely helpful that you linked those additional resources at the bottom. One question… you said you were surprised that in the U.S. you can’t get fired for mental health.

    Does that mean that generally you find that the UK has better labor protections than the U.S., or only when it comes to mental health?

    • When you watched American TV shows and films, people can instantly be fired, so America has an image of having no employee protection as you can be fired without cause. Which is pretty unique in the western world.

      Plus, Americans don’t get good sick pay, holiday pay, and maternity/paternity pay and protections. The US always seems to be in a battle to strip women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ protections in the workplace as well.

      So yeah, it basically seems that employees in the US get a really rough deal in general, so it’s surprisingly to see them care about mental health

  9. I’m so sorry that you had that experience in your workplace!! But your message in this post is so important. I think a lot of people go to work and “suffer in silence” for fear of consequences because of their mental health. I think what you e stated here is very important and the pros of addressing it with your workplace can definitely benefit someone who has some mental health concerns. I believe that we’re all capable of working, sometimes we just need a little extra support to be our best selves and there’s nothing wrong with support!

  10. I’ve been running training recently for workplace around mental health. It’s great that employers are starting to realise that they have a duty of care to their employees. It’s also beneficial for the company. Absenteeism, presenteeism and the cost of hiring are huge economic burdens companies take on when they don’t support employee mental health!

  11. Wow I’m so sorry to hear about your experience with this! It’s such a shame that so many employers aren’t adequately prepared to handle situations like that. I feel like mental health awareness needs to be increased across the board, and I hadn’t really thought it’s affects in the workplace. In America it seems that it’s still very hush-hush and not something to speak about, sadly

    • It really doesn’t surprise me in America at a place of work, it all seems to cutthroat, so you won’t want to show weakness. At least that’s the impression you get from over the pond

  12. This is such a difficult subject. Although I do think many companies will help you with it and take it into account, stigma is also still so strong… I think it depends on the company, but also on how you explain it. When I did tell my boss, I was always very clear in when I would have trouble with it, how I deal with it and the regular frequency of ‘attacks’ happening. This often eases their mind in my case, but I can imagine this also differs per situation.

  13. Very good post. In my own personal experience, in the US, I chose not to disclose my mental health issues for exactly the reason you demonstrated in your personal history. It really is unfortunate that some people are given the role to manage people when they have poor communication skills and bad judgement, which it sounded like your supervisor had. However, when it threatened my job performance, I was honest and they were extremely fine with it. I had to leave work due to panic attacks once and eventually I asked that I not be a one to one caregiver for the type of patient that triggered my PTSD. They were more than happy to reassign me. Thanks for highlighting the subject, it’s important!

    • It’s great that although you had a fear about sharing your mental health issues, that when you did, you actually got the support you needed, rather than what you feared might happen

  14. I am shocked how unpleasant your experience, and I’m so sorry about it. Very informative post as usual covers all the information from various angles and situations. Talking about your mental health in your workplace is still a stigma in many places

  15. I really appreciate you bringing this up. There is a lot of stigma around mental health in our society but as you said, things are changing and employers are far more understanding than they used to be.
    Whether to declare about your mental health needs a balanced approach of course, keeping in mind all the pros and cons you mentioned. The experience may vary for each individual depending upon the authority on the other side. Great post👍

  16. I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. I’ll say that telling your job about your mental health, should be the same as telling about physical health. If it doesn’t affect the job, don’t tell it.

  17. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s sad and unfortunate that employers and people in general don’t take mental health as seriously as they do physical health. The irony is that your mental health influences your physical health. So, if you’re not well mentally, it’s going to manifest in your body physically. This is why it is crucial that we start treating mental illness with the same care and respect that we do physical illness. Great article!

  18. I’ve had bad experiences before and going self-employed has cut that out mostly. I still have moments where I struggle still to be honest that I need time and/or rest.

  19. I always love to read your post, every time you illustrate issues with the cases that every person struggled through, in one or the other way. I’m sorry about your bitter experience and glad you make through it. Hoping for an encouraging surge scenario with proper skills to handle mental health positively. Keep writing and inspiring.

  20. I worked for a corporate. And I don’t think they care much about employee’s mental health. That’s kind a sad thing as an employee. I agree with you, it depends upon the workplace. Thanks for sharing this.

  21. Mental health is a huge part of your life and honestly it’s something you should share with your employer. If they give you trouble, it is an indicator that they aren’t a good employer to begin with. At the end of the day, knowing someone’s capabilities and weaknesses makes a team stronger, and also helps everyone. I know I found an employer that helps me a ton, and in the end, I’m more productive and happier there.

    • It can be important to know a teams capabilities to improve it’s success, and if you thought your mental health or physical health could affect that negatively, that it might be an idea to share it your health issues

  22. Great discussion. As a people manager, I’ve always felt like it’s helped me when my employees have told me. In the same vein with other managers I have seen this not be the case so I’m really on the fence with this one. Great article – it triggered a great discussion of experiences

  23. The Philippines still need to be made more aware about mental health. It’s an often a neglected, taken for granted topic like when people say they’re feeling anxious or depressed, still there are those who say they should just look at the bright side or shake it off.

  24. I would never recommend sharing info like this with an employer, even if they claim to have a policy that supports employees. Don’t believe it. It’s usually held against you. Humanity can be so awful. I’m sorry about what happened here. It’s truly awful.

  25. So many great tips for handling the stigma of mental illness at work. I was trying to help a guy at my work who has bipolar disorder. He tried to commit suicide by walking into traffic at work. I sat and talked with him and got my very understanding supervisor to help. He would not go to the doctor and get help with his meds. He was afraid of doctors. I offered to go with him, but he refused. I really tried to help him, but HR wound up getting involved because he was lashing out at coworkers. He wound up losing his job because he couldn’t function at work. I felt bad for him, but I guess we can’t make someone get help.

    • That a shame that they weren’t willing to get the help they needed to improve their quality of life when so many people were trying to help. But if they’re not willing to, there’s not a lot you can do

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