How to Talk to Your Coworkers About Your Mental Health
In any given year, one in five Australians will experience a mental health condition. That means that a significant number of us will experience a form of mental illness whilst we’re also at work, so, depending on our situation, the best course for recovery could involve us making some alternative work arrangements for a period of time. Often, that means communicating our needs to our employers or coworkers.
Although sharing our needs can be hard, there are some things we can do to make it easier for ourselves. Here are some good ideas for you to consider when approaching that conversation.
Remember That Mental Illness Is Common
Approaching the conversation with the understanding that we’re not alone, and that we’re actually having a very common experience, can be helpful when wavering in our decision to disclose our struggle. Chances are, the people you’re speaking with have had their own experience with mental ill health, either themself or someone close to them.
Think About What You’ll Say
Before initiating a conversation with your colleagues, spend a little bit of time thinking about how much you would feel comfortable sharing with them.
The types of questions you should be able to answer before having a discussion include:
- Are you comfortable sharing a particular diagnosis or experience, or would you rather simply refer to a ‘mental health issue’?
- Which people do you feel comfortable knowing about your situation, and how can you communicate any privacy concerns to the people you do choose to share with?
- What sort of outcome would you like to achieve
Be Solution Oriented
Whilst it’s incredibly important to have social support and therapy in the treatment of mental illness, it’s best to not seek that sort of relationship with your colleagues, no matter how understanding they are. Rather, when you do come to have a conversation about your concerns, think about solutions that would be helpful to you and steer the conversation in that direction.
There are a number of possible solutions that you might like to think about, depending on your situation.
- You might need to take some time away from work
- You may feel that working in a different setting for a while would be helpful
- You might need to take particular hours off to go and receive treatment
- You might like some additional help, an extension, or to hand a particular project over that is causing significant stress
Whilst the societal conversation about mental health has grown exponentially in recent years, and outdated ideas of mental ill health as a form of incompetence or weakness are thankfully being set straight, it can still feel like a vulnerable conversation to have with others.
If you’re finding that the old stigma of mental ill health is making you hesitant to have the conversation, you could frame your mental health needs as you would with any physical health ailment.
For example, you could simply explain to your coworker that due to some mental ill health you’re experiencing, you’ll need to take some time out for rest and treatment, as someone would if they fractured their wrist.
This sort of subtle shift in the conversation can not only help you feel more relaxed when approaching the conversation, but also gives your coworker an avenue for understanding your needs that they can more easily relate to if they don’t have that insight.
No matter how you choose to approach it, by speaking up for your needs, you’re not only doing yourself a great service, but you’re also setting a positive example for others about how to be open about their own struggles and create a more mentally healthy environment overall.
This article is part of our series on creating mentally healthy workspaces, to encourage all individuals to thrive both inside and outside of work.