Telling your boss how you feel

How would you tell your manager at work that you need more support, or that you are having a hard time? Perhaps you feel depressed, worried or really stressed out, and you do not know how to cope anymore. Maybe you need to request time off work to go to psychological therapy for depression, anxiety or stress? Perhaps you are struggling in your relationship and it is hard to concentrate at work when you are having constant arguments at home? Maybe you have had sleeping problems for months and finding it difficult to focus on your work tasks?

Whatever your reason for feeling low or stressed, we know that a lack of support or feelings of invalidation is not going to help. It is not particularly helpful to be told “just get on with it” or “you’ve got nothing to be stressed about” or “I don’t understand how you can’t get it done in time, other people manage just fine”.

In the current day and age of the fast paced life style where performance is key, it can be really hard to admit that we are not coping so well. However, if your manager is not aware of what is going on for you, they also do not get a chance to offer any support either. Perhaps your predictions of how they would react is related to your depression (as in, it is bound to be negative)? With one in four experiencing common mental health problems at some point in their lives, your manager may have struggled themselves or know someone who has.

So the negative thoughts and predictions you have about telling your boss can be teased out into two boxes, if you were to write them down – namely, the things we know for sure (facts) and the things we worry about. The first category is more to do with current problems, which we have to deal with, and the second one would be hypothetical scenarios, which may or may not happen.

If you have seen other people in the work place ask for support for mental health issues and they have received a negative response, that piece of evidence would go in the ‘current problems’ box (as a fact). But even with “facts”, we have to keep in mind where we heard this fact. Who told us about the manager’s negative reaction? Did we witness it? Can the person who told us have got the wrong end of the stick?

That said, if the manager truly has been responding inappropriately to a request for support, then unions are there to help. If your work place also has a HR department or occupational health, they may also be of help. If you feel so unwell that you are unable to work at all, speaking to your GP can be very helpful. You also have protection in the law (The Equality Act 2010).

If you do realise that your depression or low mood is tending to filter things, and you are not quite sure if you have any “facts” which support your beliefs around how your manager would respond, then you might want to write down your reasons in the hypothetical scenarios box. You may write “what if they fire me?” or “what if my colleagues will find out and stop talking to me?” or such. This could happen, which is the case with any hypothetical worry, but is it as likely as your depression or anxiety is telling you?

Good luck in your journey of seeking more support. Together we can do it – decreasing this stigma around mental health!