by Reed Parker
For individuals with mental health issues, work serves purposes beyond just providing income that are integral to feeling like a high functioning member of society.
According to ABC Health & Wellbeing, work offers “a sense of purpose and goals, increased social inclusion, a sense of belonging and involvement, structure and consistency to the day and week, and distraction.” Without these elements, too much time is left for dwelling on issues and shortcomings.
The office environment itself can be a trigger, especially because so many offices are turning to the open floor plan. High visibility, high noise levels, and an overall lack of control can make those with anxiety or a comorbidity with anxiety vulnerable to panic attacks due to over stimulation.
Being able to tell your superiors that you’re having a hard time on the job isn’t a simple task. The inner monologue that leads up to it can fluctuate between “I think they’ll understand my struggle,” and “They’re just going to fire me because they don’t want to deal with this.” Additionally, it’s hard to shake the thought that maybe you won’t be given raises or promotions due to your condition.
There are laws in the Unites States protecting those with mental illness from discrimination so the negative rhetoric is unfounded. But at the most anxious of times, it can be hard to think rationally. It’s easy to feel as though you’re placing a target on your back by speaking up.
According to Scientific American, “If your work has started to suffer, disclosing a mental illness may help you explain the situation and get assistance. On the other hand, if you are getting along fine, offering this sensitive information is probably not worth the risk.”
Although, what does “getting along fine” mean? Just because your outward appearance may be masking the effects of mental illness, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting along fine. Sadly, subconscious processes may be occurring that will cause stress that may not be active if the issue was more out in the open.
If problems brought on by mental illness are affecting your work performance, yet you insist on not opening up to your boss, they will draw their own conclusions as to why your performance is suffering. Conversely, explaining your situation can be the proactive solution because it gives your boss context for your behavior. Additionally, not having to keep that information private will relieve stress and make the work environment a more comfortable one.
Unfortunately, the mental health stigma is still alive and well. Management Today suggests approaching the conversation as more of a reassurance than a problem. Something to the effect of in the past this mental illness has been an issue, but currently I have this condition under control and am able to function normally.
I have to believe that the vast majority of those in managerial positions are compassionate people who, even if they don’t have any personal experience with mental illness, are able to demonstrate emotional intelligence and the ability to sympathize. If your relationship with your boss is strained and it’s possible they might blow things out of proportion, it might not matter how you approach this conversation.
In my personal experience it’s been important for me to explain to my bosses and managers that I deal with mental health issues before anything happens. Ideally after a week or two of being on the job. That way, when the day inevitably comes that I have to take time off for mental health reasons or have a health-related appointment in the middle of the day, it doesn’t come as a surprise. My boss has been made aware of my situation and is understanding.
They don’t see it as an excuse tacked on retroactively.
Reed Parker is a freelance writer whose interests include business, psychology, marketing, and ‘bad’ jokes. He once stayed up all night trying to find the sun. Then it dawned on him.