It was scary, but I knew I had to do it.
I’ve been living with depression my whole life, but it has only been in the last five years that I decided to be open about it. Talking about depression with someone new still makes me nervous — especially when that person is my manager. But being open about my depression at work helps me be more authentic as an employee, which helps my managers and coworkers understand me better, and adds to the story of who I am.
And being who I am means I don’t have to hide the fact that sometimes I need to take an hour to see my therapist, and I can talk openly about it at work. Not everyone is that lucky, but American culture and health care are moving towards treating mental health like we treat physical health. They’re being seen as equally important, and you wouldn’t look down on someone for needing medication for a heart condition.
Christy Colgan, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s (BCBSNC) health & wellness manager, cautions that it’s important to consider why you are disclosing your mental health. “There is a host of reasons why mental health can affect your work life, and you may want to make sure your boss understands them, much in the same way you would disclose you have diabetes,” Colgan says. “For example, many medications might make you sleepier in the morning, or you might need to take some time off to recover from emotional stress. A lot of it is going to depend on the culture at your company. Some workplaces are more tolerant and progressive than others.”
It’s also important to remember that if you don’t feel comfortable talking to your manager, you might try talking to Human Resources.
It’s Your Choice
I chose to disclose some details of my mental health to my manager. Unfortunately, there are still some people who stigmatize mental health issues. If you are considering such a conversation, take stock of what you need for your well-being and get a sense of whether you can trust your manager. If you need help getting started, you might want to review these tips for effectively communicating with your boss.
It’s also important to note that mental health conditions fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under this legislation, your employer has a duty to make reasonable accommodations for depression.
Dr. Larry Wu, BCBSNC medical director, advises us to “discuss questions about work accommodations with your doctor. They understand your needs and can offer guidance on how to approach your employer about work accommodations such as regular meetings with your manager to discuss workload, change in start time, additional breaks and how to cope better with stress during the work day.”
In some situations, extra time off may be needed. This is covered under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Your Manager Can Help You
One reason to be honest with your manager is that they can be your advocate. They are there to help you succeed. If they know about your mental health – and they’re doing their job – then they can help you get the support you need. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. You get to decide how much or how little to share, but the better informed your manager is, the easier it will be to find a balance between what they need from your role, and what kind of support you need.
If you do decide to disclose, have a clear sense of why it’s important to you. It may be because you have functional limitations because of your mental illness, or simply because you don’t want to have to come up with excuses for why you need time off. Whatever your reasons, I recommend that you focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t do.
Whatever you decide, be sure you get the support you need.
- Talk to your Human Resources department about the company’s Employee Assistance Program. Most companies will have one, and can provide a 24-hour toll-free hotline you can call to get connected with resources for mental health.
- Use “Find a Doctor” to locate a therapist or psychiatrist that can help.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (24/7)
- Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741
It is also important to take care of yourself.
- Get outside: Sunshine increases Vitamin D production which can help alleviate depression.
- Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
- Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
- Try to be active and exercise.
- Set realistic goals for yourself.