Bringing Up Mental Health Concerns to Your Boss: What You Should Know

Medical Discrimination
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In a perfect world, whenever someone struggles with a mental health concern, they should feel free to get help and be able to share any struggles without fear of any negative reaction.

But life’s imperfect, which means the workplace is imperfect too. As a result, many employees suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or any other mental health condition will feel hesitant to bring up these issues with their employers.

The reasons can vary from shame, to the actual fear of getting fired due to common misconceptions about mental health conditions. Hesitance to report issues in these situations is even more backwards when you consider that employees can utilize the Family Medical Leave Act to treat mental conditions like depression.

Regardless of the reason, an employee often needs to think twice about revealing a mental health issue with his or her boss; let’s take a look at why this is the case, and what employees can do when they decide it’s time to tell a manager or supervisor about a mental illness or other psychological concern.

The Extent of Mental Illness Struggles at Work

Mental health problems can be quite costly to the economy. According to the World Health Organization, just depression and anxiety alone will cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

While these are global numbers, they help put into perspective the cost of mental illness struggles in the workforce. One of the most common suffered by employees is depression.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that depression can reduce cognitive performance in individuals by about 35%. However, only 57% of employees with moderate depression (and just 40% of employees with severe depression) receive treatment.

Given how much mental illness can affect a worker, why are they so reluctant to get help? There are a variety of reasons, but one of them relates to the fact that it may require the worker to reveal very personal medical information to the employer.

Why Employees Need to Be Careful About Divulging Their Mental Health Issues

Employees fighting a mental health challenge should not have to fear what their employers might think. Yet 68% of employees are afraid that if they reveal their mental health problems to their employers, it will have a negative impact on their jobs. What kind of negative effect? There are several possibilities.

First, there’s a strong stigma and a large amount of ignorance concerning emotional issues. An employee might feel that the employer will view the mental illness as a sign of weakness, unreliability or a danger to others in the office.

Second, employers are known to discriminate against employees with mental health problems. Many of the disability complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) relate to mental health-related impairments.

For instance, in the 2019 fiscal year, the percentage of disability discrimination complaints the EEOC received that were based on mental health issues were as follows:

  • Anxiety disorder – 7.4%
  • Depression – 5.9%
  • Manic depressive disorder – 2.1%
  • Post-traumatic disorder – 4.2%
  • Other psychological disorders – 1.2%

This is probably just a small sample of the actual number of cases of mental health discrimination.

Third, there’s the potential to have to reveal a lot of personal information. This will be necessary if the employee wants to get assistance from the employer, especially if asking for leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Not all employees will be comfortable providing this medical information to their employers. And while an employer must keep this information confidential, that doesn’t guarantee the information will stay secret. Documents get lost, coworkers gossip and employees break workplace privacy rules.

When and How Employees Can Discuss Emotional Concerns With Their Employers

Given the risks that come with telling your employer that you have a mental health concern or psychological disorder, it might seem like the best advice is to keep your mouth shut.

In some isolated situations with close-minded employers, that might be the best thing to do. But in most cases, it’s probably not what you need to do. If you find yourself thinking that you need to reveal your mental health issue with your boss, keep the following tips in mind:

First, if you want to bring up your mental health concern to your employer, now’s the time to do it. With the coronavirus pandemic changing how organizations do business, as well as the toll it’s taking on the workforce, there has never been a better time for a boss to understand what you’re going through.

There’s also a good chance you won’t be the only one who faces mental health struggles. From April 2020 to May 2020, more than 43% of young adults reported suffering from depression.

Second, try to wait until you’re established in your new job before informing your boss of the need to get help for your mental health. If you bring up this issue too soon, such as during an interview or probationary period, then your employer might have an easier time finding a pretextual reason for firing you (or not hiring you).

Third, only provide enough information for your employer to decide how to assist you. Don’t volunteer any information and don’t lie, but provide all of the information requested by your employer.

Fourth, be clear in what you need. If you want to work from home on Mondays so you can go to counseling in the morning, say so. Even if your employer can read your mind, you need to protect yourself by establishing the accommodations you need. It’s impossible to say your employer denied you an accommodation that you were entitled to under the law (or company policy) if you don’t make it clear what you’re asking for.

Fifth, don’t wait too long to ask for help. If you do this, you risk allowing the mental health condition to start affecting your job performance. The last you want to do is decide to wait to ask for help, and then get fired for poor on-the-job performance before you get the opportunity to bring up the issue with your employer.

Sixth, find the right person to reach out to when asking for help. This could be a designated contact, such as the director of human resources. But if there are several individuals you can bring your concerns to, try to find the one who will be the most understanding. Maybe you know of one who’s already getting treatment for his or her bipolar disorder, for instance.

Summing It Up

– These mental health issues are widespread and can be costly for the economy and employees, resulting in reduced work performance.

– Employees may need to ask for accommodations concerning their mental health conditions, but doing so carry some risks, such as discrimination, having to divulge personal information, or having a negative stigma attached to the employee.

– With the arrival of the coronavirus, now’s a good time for employees to start a discussion with an employer about mental illness or other emotional struggles, as workplaces across society are beginning to take personal needs more seriously.

– If an employee decides to bring up his or her mental health concern, they need to identify the best person to reach out to, find the right time to have the discussion and provide only enough information to make it clear what’s needed and why.

It’s perfectly understandable if you suffer from a mental health condition, but are hesitant to bring it up with your employer. However, if you need your employer to provide accommodations or benefits so you can get treatment, you will need to start a dialogue with them.

If you would like assistance with this process, including getting a better understanding of your rights and how to make the most of them, please contact the Spiggle Law Firm to speak with a mental health disability lawyer.