Adapted from the HBR article written by Kelly Greenwod: https://hbr.org/2021/07/how-to-talk-about-your-mental-health-with-your-employer
By the time I disclosed my generalized anxiety disorder at work, it was too late. It had spiraled into debilitating depression and I could no longer even craft a basic email, much less do the rigorous job I was hired for. My previously high performance had very noticeably suffered, compelling me to nervously share the truth and ultimately forcing me out on a leave of absence.
In retrospect, a simple accommodation early on likely could’ve prevented all of that, saving me tremendous personal turmoil and my organization the extra workload.
What I didn’t know then is that up to 80% of people will experience a diagnosable mental health condition over the course of their lifetime, whether they know it or not. The prevalence of symptoms is the same from the C-suite to individual contributors, but almost 60% of employees have never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health status. Many high performers, including anxious achievers like myself, have strengths that often result from these challenges. I was not nearly as alone as I thought.
Mental health is a spectrum that we all go back and forth on, just like physical health. Most of us fluctuate between stress, burnout, and diagnosable conditions like depression or anxiety depending on what’s happening in our lives. While it may feel harder to disclose bipolar disorder than burnout, everyone should be able to relate on some level.
This has never been more true than it has been over the last 18 months, between the stressors of the pandemic, racial trauma, and more. Managers, direct reports, and colleagues have been more vulnerable and authentic than ever due to shared societal challenges and the blurring of the personal and professional with remote work.
That said, the effects of stigma can still loom large. My self-stigma told me that I was weak and should be ashamed of my anxiety and depression. Societal stigma told me that I would be judged and that professional repercussions would follow if I disclosed. However, since I widely disclosed my condition in recent years, none of those things have happened. As a result of my experiences, I founded Mind Share Partners, a nonprofit that focuses on changing the culture of workplace mental health. Here’s what we recommend if you’re considering disclosing a mental health challenge at work.
Read on to learn more about:
- Understanding: Self-reflect
- Deciding: Consider the context and resources
- Preparing: Explore your comfort level
- Sharing: Start the conversation
(At Dalhousie University, contact email@example.com to explore your workplace options.)