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Is It OK to Tell My Boss About My Mental Health Issues?

two woman sitting discussing over coffee

Ever come down with the flu, or break a bone on a ski trip? Chances are, you can count on your boss and your coworkers to rally around with sympathetic emails, flowers, or a pot of chicken soup.  What’s more: Your boss wants to help you get better quickly—and get back to the office.

But what if you’re struggling with a spike in your depression symptoms, or an anxiety attack comes from out of the blue? You may be a little less inclined to share.

“There’s still a stigma about mental health in the workplace,” says David Ballard, Psy.D., director of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace program. “Mental health and physical health are treated very differently. When people were asked, in a survey, if they’d feel comfortable telling their boss about a mental health problem, more than half said they would not.”

Why is this? More than one in three workers are concerned about retaliation or being fired if they seek mental health care, according to the American Psychiatric Association. “People are often worried about repercussions,” says Dr. Ballard. “They fear it might get in the way of promotions or getting a good job assignment, or they’re afraid of being bullied or ostracized. So they go to great lengths to hide their problems. This just piles on the stress and makes the issue even worse.”

That’s unfortunate for a lot of reasons. For one, it could be a bad business practice for employers. Especially when you consider that for every dollar a company invests in improving the mental health care of their employees, they see a four-dollar return in improved health and productivity.

Employees see the biggest benefit of all. “People who work for companies that provide for mental health care are more likely to report higher levels of job satisfaction,” says Dr. Ballard. “They do a better job, they feel more motivated, they report less stress, and they’re less likely to say they plan to leave the company in the next year.”

How to Cope With Mental Health Symptoms on the Job

If you struggle to deal with the challenges that a mental health condition presents while holding down a job, know that you are not alone. A quarter of the American workforce experiences mental health symptoms at any given time.

In fact, work can be an important part of your self-care routine and mental health strategy. “Going to work is one of the best treatments for depression and other mental health issues,” says Kerrie Smedley, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Annville, Pennsylvania.

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