Mental health has been a taboo subject for too long, especially in many workplaces, but experts are now welcoming open discussions about it. Hilda Burke, a psychotherapist, life coach and couples’ counsellor at her practice Hilda Burke Psychotherapy, agrees.
For those experiencing mental health issues, do try to approach your employer about your concerns. “You don’t have to be specific,” says Andy Silvester, head of campaigns and deputy director of policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD). “Say that you think you could benefit from some time off to seek advice from the many charities and providers that are out there. You’d be surprised how often employers are open to those conversations.”
If you are thinking of speaking to a colleague or manager for the first time about your mental health, think about how and when you do this. Once you have this conversation, it can’t be ‘unsaid’, so it’s important you feel secure and safe in disclosing your mental health problem.”
Knowing when it’s getting too much is crucial. “Think about what keeps you well at work, and the signs you’ll recognise in yourself if you start to struggle. If you can, communicate this to your manager. Either way, make sure you keep a support network outside of work, and try to maintain a proper balance between work and life.
As well as having an honest conversation with your manager about your mental health situation, also be truthful to yourself about your needs, says Gillian Connor, head of policy partnerships at the charity Rethink Mental Illness. “Whether that’s going out for a lunchtime walk, leaving on time, not taking work home with you.”
Workplaces need to become mental-health friendly, argues Connor. “This will help more people feel comfortable about disclosing when they have a health problem,” she says. “It’s also important that employers themselves understand their responsibilities under the law, as well as other steps they can take to get the best out of a diverse workforce. Outside the workplace, we need better access to services – such as talking therapies – as well as improved attitudes towards mental illness.”
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