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Should You Tell Your Boss About Your Mental Health Condition- 2023

Should You Tell Your Boss About Your Mental Health Condition?

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Living with a mental health condition can be challenging on many levels, and one of the greatest challenges is dealing with the stigma often tied to the diagnosis. Nearly one billion individuals live with a mental health disorder, including 47 million Americans. Still, we often avoid discussing our mental health in professional settings, thus allowing the stigma to grow.  

Discussing our mental health with our boss and colleagues can help break this cycle. Research says that discussing our mental health makes us more likely to be happier, more confident, and more productive in the workplace. Although there are many benefits to speaking up about your mental health in the workplace, for many individuals, this can be a difficult subject to navigate, especially if you are new to the job, early on in your career, or in a toxic workplace.  

You can disclose information about your mental health condition anytime during your employment. However, you also have the right to never disclose any information about your mental health condition. The Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) states that employers cannot ask questions that will likely reveal the existence of a disability before making a job offer, so therefore this topic should never come up from your employer during the hiring process. 

 Some reasons to disclose your mental health disorder to your boss include the following: 

  • To obtain protection under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) 
  • To request job accommodations (private office, work-from-home time, time off). “An accommodation is modifying a job, the job site, or the way things are done to enable a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal employment opportunity.” 
  • To reduce stigma 
  • To educate others about mental health 
  • To alleviate any anxiety or stress from “hiding” your mental health disorder 
  • Allows your boss to better understand if you have sudden symptoms or hospitalizations about your mental health disorder

Your employer, by law, must keep this confidential 

Work is a major component of our lives. We spend, on average, 40 hours each week at work, and often we think and talk about work off the clock. However, we often don’t discuss our feelings or mental state at work. How can we expect our boss to know what we are going through if we don’t talk about it? Our society often teaches us to wear a brave face and work through the hard stuff, but often we need time to process the hard stuff and people to talk to about our emotions. If there is no specific work-related reason to disclose your mental health disorder with your boss, then there is no point in discussing your mental health in the workplace.  

However, the reality of having a mental health disorder is that you most likely will experience symptoms at work. You may have difficulty with mood, completing tasks, and communicating with coworkers. You may feel exhausted, burned out, anxious or stressed, and these feelings may interfere with your work performance and your relationships with your coworkers or boss. If your boss does not know what you are going through, how do you expect him/her to empathize or understand a slip-up in your performance or your stressed disposition towards your co-workers?  

If you have a good working relationship with your boss (this often comes with time), it could be very beneficial to disclose your mental health disorder so your boss can understand when you are struggling and how it can impact your work. This also allows your boss to tailor your environment to optimize your chances for success and be more understanding when you need time off work or to leave work early. Also, opening up about your personal life creates room for growth and trust in a professional relationship.  

However, if you do not have a good working relationship with your boss, it may be wise not to disclose information about your mental health but be sure to know the laws concerning mental illness in the workplace. For example, it may be in your best interest to make sure to have the appropriate Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork on file with the HR (human resources) department (which is legally required to protect your private health information) so that you can be absent from work when you need to be. In addition, you may be able to tailor your work environment without disclosing your mental health condition. For example, you may be able to ask for flexible hours or the ability to work from home.   

How to talk to your boss 

  • Consider the “why”: It is important to understand what you want and need out of disclosing your mental health disorder to your boss. For example, do you need more flexible work hours, the ability to work from home, or more time off? Do you need your boss to be more understanding when you are having a hard day? When sharing about your mental health disorder, it is important to consider the reasons behind this disclosure and discuss your needs with your boss.  
  • Find an appropriate time and place for the discussion: This is an important discussion, so it is necessary to be free from distractions when having this conversation with your boss; over the phone or in person is best when nobody else is around.  
  • Keep it professional and succinct: Tell your boss only what is necessary. Be clear and concise, stating how your mental health problems impact your work. It is important to keep it professional and appropriate as your boss is not your therapist or close friend, so you must stick to what matters to the workplace.

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