You are here

Mental health at work: should I tell my employer?

The answer is maybe. And it can be very hard to know either way. This is unfortunate because mental health problems are very common. One in six workers are currently experiencing unmanageable stress, anxiety or depression.

And yet despite how common mental health issues are, Mind research found that one in five people who had told their employers about a mental health concern were sacked or forced out of their jobs [PDF].

So it’s not surprising you’re not sure what to do. A further complicating matter is that employers only have to make what’s legally called ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace if they know about your problems.

How do you make the decision on whether to tell your employer or not?

Disclosing mental health at work - a very personal choice

Ultimately, your decision is likely to be guided by a range of different factors.

  • Do you need help from external parties or are you coping well on your own?
  • Is your mental health affecting the quality of your work?
  • Are you afraid that negative things you do are not understood by others that don’t know you have a mental health problem?
  • Are you feeling held back in your career?
  • Do you feel you can’t be yourself or totally honest at work until you’ve told the organisation about your mental health issue?
  • Do you feel exhausted by your efforts to hide or shield others from manifestations of your condition?

Your answers to these questions may help you decide whether it’s time to disclose your mental health condition or not.

Disclosing a mental health condition - what do you want?

By disclosing your condition, what are you hoping to achieve?

If you really just need to speak to someone and get it off your chest, maybe your employer is not the best option - you could speak to a counsellor, or sign up for the Mind forums to speak with people going through the same things as you.

Or do you have friends that you can talk to? Remember that when disclosing a mental health condition to a manager, there will be personal details you’ll want to leave out. You have a professional relationship and it wouldn’t be appropriate to share everything. Again, this comes back to what you are looking for.

Coming back to the questions above, answering yes to these four may make you lean towards informing an employer:

  • Do you need help from external parties or are you coping well on your own?
  • Do you feel exhausted by your efforts to hide or shield others from manifestations of your condition?
  • Are you feeling held back in your career?
  • Do you feel you can’t be yourself or totally honest at work until you’ve told the organisation about your mental health issue?

Disclosing your condition to your employer means they must legally make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your working life in order to support you. These could include:

  • Changes to your working area or working hours
  • A greater chance to work from home
  • Time off work for treatment or assessment for your condition
  • A temporary reduction in tasks that are proving particularly problematic
  • Mentoring or coaching to help you cope better in the workplace

Do these sound like they could help you? If so, again, it may be in your interests to disclose your problem. But to get them, you must show you are experiencing substantial disadvantages. This is of course based on the law - your employer may be much more willing to support you than just meeting legal requirements.

I think I want to disclose my mental health condition. What do I need to think about?

  • Who do you want to tell? This can unfortunately come down to personalities at times. If you have a really understanding boss with whom you have a personal relationship, telling them may make your relationship with them, and your place in the team, much more comfortable. If you don’t think they’ll understand, it could make things worse. At the very least, you should tell HR, because they will responsible for making ‘reasonable adjustments’ according to the law. What about your colleagues? Would you benefit from them knowing?
  • How do you want to disclose? Do you want to start with an informal chat and see how people react, or get a note from your doctor explaining your condition and then following it up with a meeting? Are there any particular websites that help bring your struggles to life that would be useful to share?
  • What do you want people to know? For some organisations - particularly large ones where mental health disclosures are likely to be more common - a doctor’s note may be all you need to get the wheels in motion for changes to be made. In smaller companies, you may find you get more personal support from senior managers by being more open. Again, this will be a personal choice.

Mind have a couple of templates (PDF and Word)  for disclosing a mental health condition to your employer: these are formal templates around the legal case for reasonable adjustments.

Disclosing mental health at work: where can I go for more information?

It’s a big decision for you, so take your time. There’s lots of information around and people you can talk to.

  • Acas: an objective organisation focused on workplace law and good relationships between employer and employee, Acas will be able to give you more information on the types of adjustments employers can make. They have a helpline on 0300 123 1100.
  • Mind: mental health charity Mind are experienced in how difficult making the decision around disclosure can be. They also have a helpline on 0300 466 6463.
  • Time to Change: the Time to Change campaign is trying to stamp out the stigma of mental health in society and in the workplace, so are well-placed to give you information that could help you make a decision.