What support can I get at work?

If you’re experiencing a mental health problem that is impacting your working life, it can be tricky to know what action to take. But there is support available to help you in the workplace.

Should I tell my employer about my mental health problem?

If you have an ongoing mental health problem, or are struggling with your wellbeing, you may feel unsure whether to tell your employer or not. You might experience barriers such as:

  • not knowing who, when or how to tell
  • being unsure of how much to tell
  • worrying how they will react
  • worrying that there will be negative consequences

The possible benefits of talking about your mental health at work include:

  • having a stronger basis for requesting support at work
  • not having to hide any difficulties you are experiencing
  • if you choose to tell colleagues, others may also open up about their experiences of mental health problems

Telling anyone about your mental health is a personal choice – there is no right or wrong answer.

“Talking to my employer was very hard because of shame and confidentiality reasons but I was surprised and felt much more supported and understood.”

How do I tell my manager?

It can be difficult to know how to start the conversation. To make the process easier you may want to think about:

  • talking to your manager in private during supervision or requesting a one-to-one meeting
  • what you would like to say during the meeting. You might find it useful to bring some notes with you.

What changes can I ask for at work?

Changing something about your working environment or the way you do your job may help you to stay well and work more effectively. Some of the changes you can make on your own. Others will require action or agreement from your employer.

When speaking to your employer about how to support you within what is reasonable for your role, remember you are the best judge of what you need.

What will be helpful for you will depend on what sort of work you do, and what sort of things you find difficult. You might want to ask about changes like:

  • use voicemail to take messages if phone calls make you anxious
  • use email where possible if you find face-to-face contact stressful
  • discuss flexible working to suit your needs – for example, so you can attend medical appointments
  • if you find it difficult to concentrate, move to a quieter workspace
  • if you have seasonal affective disorder, move to a workstation by a window or ask for a lightbox
  • ask for on-the-job support (such as a workplace mentor), or permission for a support worker to come in or be contacted during work hours
  • permission to take time out when distressed. This could just be a few minutes away from your workstation, going out for some air, or having a short rest

“My employer understands exactly what it is I’m going through. They help and support me any way they can. I’m one of the lucky ones.”

If you have a diagnosed mental health problem, think about what specifically could help you with the problems you experience. Your employer might refer you to an occupational health adviser for advice on how best to support you. For ideas and tips on coping with mental health problems, see the resources section of Mind HK’s website.

What if I need to take time off work?

If you are too unwell to work at the moment, you may need to take some time off from work. Sickness absence for your mental health is just as valid as absence for physical health problems. Taking time off does not mean you won’t ever go back to work. Check with your employer and contract as to any relevant sick leave policy and insurance.

Your employer should support you when you are ready to return to work.

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