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How to talk about your mental health with your boss

In today's world, discussion about mental health at work has intensified compared to the previous generation where talking about mental health was a fairly taboo subject.

Although, it's easier today to bring up mental health in the workplace, many of us prefer to keep our personal lives separate from our work lives. Thus, if we're experiencing depression or anxiety, we'll try our best to ensure our condition is kept private. However, keeping a mental health condition hidden at work might undermine your engagement and performance at work, holding you back from achieving your full potential.

Read on for our tips on approaching your boss and advocating for your mental health in the workplace.

Be prepared

Before you ask your boss for a private meeting, do some due diligence - it'll help you be fully prepared and have a plan when you walk into the meeting. Make a list of the things you would like to talk about, so you'll have your talking points in hand. Write down your rough days and state of mind - it'll make it easier for your boss to understand how you're feeling and assist you in finding practical solutions to your situation. Once you have everything in place, request a meeting with your boss on a day where you're feeling self-assured and are in good spirits.

Discussion about your mental health

Talking about your mental health doesn't need to be scary, it's entirely up to you whether to be completely honest or only inform your boss of the pertinent facts. It's important to be clear and concise on how your mental health issues are impacting your work and productivity. Having a doctor's note on your diagnosis is beneficial as you can work together in devising a plan to manage your tasks and mental health at work. Additionally, employers have a legal obligation to respect your right to privacy - since it's your mental health, you are not required to reveal your condition to everyone else at work unless you want them to know.

Offer practical suggestions

Employers generally have an obligation to make practical adjustments for employees suffering from mental health conditions. Although it's up to your employer to decide the best way to move forward, you can offer your input on what might help you. It can be something like changes to your working hours, longer lunch breaks to accommodate therapy appointments or even occasionally working remotely. You can also have someone from HR involved in the discussion to provide guidance in creating reasonable solutions to your situation.

Know your rights

Employers have a legal responsibility to manage risks relating to mental wellbeing. The following laws cover issues relating to workplace wellbeing and good workplace practices:

  • Employment Relations Act 2000: Including the right to request flexible working arrangements, and general employer/employee requirements
  • Accident Compensation Amendment Act 2010
  • Parental Leave & Employment Protection Act 1987 & Amendment
  • NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990
  • Privacy Act 1993: Includes processes of disclosure and talking to others around return to work.
  • State Owned Enterprises Act 1986, State Sector Act 1988 and Local Government Act 2002 and amendments: Includes the need to be a good employer and show equal employment opportunity requirements for specific employers. (Source).

Verbalising your struggles can be a great form of relief as you no longer feel like you're dealing with your condition alone and can start making changes that will benefit you. Speaking up for yourself at work not only helps you but also future employees who may grapple with the same issues. At the end of the day, you shouldn't feel guilty of your mental health issues or let them stop you from going after the position you want.

Getting help

For guidance and advice about mental wellbeing and the law, these groups can help:

  • Employers Association
  • DiversityWorks (formerly EEO Trust)
  • Your local Community Law Centre
  • Chamber of Commerce

If you need to talk to someone:

  • Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
  • Call lifeline on 0800 534 or (09) 522 2999
  • Free text Lifeline on 4357 (HELP)

If you feel you or someone else is at risk or harm

  • Phone 111 in emergencies

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