Mental health discussion

How to Talk to Your Boss About Mental Health

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I’ve started to experience some serious anxiety lately, related to work and other things. I’m having trouble sleeping and wonder if I might need some help from a professional to deal with this issue. I have a good relationship with my manager but don’t know how to bring this up with her—or even if I should bring it up. What advice can you give me?

A: It’s great that you have a positive relationship with your manager, but it’s also important to understand that once you share this highly personal issue with her, you can’t take it back.

There is no law that says you have to tell your manager if you think you might need professional help to deal with your anxiety (or any other mental health issue). However, if your problems are affecting your ability to do your job, you may want to be upfront with your boss about them.

If you choose to talk with your manager, plan what you will say carefully. Select an appropriate timepreferably not when she is not in the middle of a crisis or rushing to meet a deadline. It’s also best to not spring this on her out of the blue. Make an appointment so that she has time set aside for this conversation.

There is no law that says you have to tell your manager if you think you might need professional help to deal with your anxiety. However, if your problems are affecting your ability to do your job, you may want to be upfront with your boss about them.

When you meet, you don’t need to go into detail or share anything that is too personal. Just let your manager know that you have some issues that you want her to be aware of. If your anxiety is work-related, be honest about the parts of your job that are causing you significant stress and discuss whether the pressure points can be alleviated. If possible, make some suggestions about how your work could be made less stressful.

Assure your boss that you are doing your best not to let your anxiety interfere with your performance and that you remain committed to your work and the organization.

Any good manager will understand that this conversation—and any conversation about a personal health issue—must remain confidential, with the exception that your manager may go to HR for additional resources.

If you decide to seek professional help, you may be able to take advantage of your organization’s Employee Assistance Program. But if that option isn’t available to you, talk to your manager or your HR department to see if there are other resources at your disposal.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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