How to talk to your boss about your depression

It’s great that we’re having so many more conversations about depression now, and that the stigma is starting to be broken down.

But the work still isn’t finished and it’s still completely understandable if you feel embarrassed or awkward at the thought of talking about it. I mean, you shouldn’t, just as you wouldn’t feel awkward talking about a broken ankle, but knowing that you shouldn’t doesn’t magically make everything peachy.

We generally spend about 45 hours a week at our workplace, and that’s not counting for commutes or any overtime or out-of-hours email checking we’re doing. With pretty much any job there’ll be deadlines and a certain amount of stress and pressure (please DM me if you know of jobs that don’t have this as I would like one thanks), and performing to a certain level or quality can easily affect or trigger depression.

Besides the demands, there’s the whole concept of plastering on a fake face and sauntering into work every day and owning it – not such an easy task when you’re crumbling inside and your brain’s on fire.

But just like it wouldn’t be easy for someone to come into work and be at peak performance every day if they had tonsilitis, it’s difficult (but not impossible, I dare say) for you to be constantly knocking it out of the park every day if you’re depressed.

It makes sense for your manager to be aware of your struggles with your mental health so that they can support you in any way that you need. It’s literally their job to manage your workload and ensure their employees aren’t being over/underwhelmed, and it will help them as well as you if they understand any illnesses you might have.

You absolutely do not have to tell anyone about your depression if you don’t want to. By all means, keep it to yourself and keep trying to manage it in a way that feels comfortable for you.

However, if you find that your depression is affecting your ability to do your job or come into work, it’s generally better to be honest as soon as you can rather than build up layers of lies as to why you’re asking to work from home again.

As a former manager myself, I think managing someone with mental health struggles is no different to managing anyone else – but obviously I a) have experience of being severely depressed and b) am a ~millennial~ aware of mental health struggles and very much open to talking about them. Alas, not everyone has a boss who’s that accepting.

From the perspective of a manager, I can say that the most helpful thing to tell your boss is what you need from them in terms of support. Your boss (probably) isn’t your doctor or therapist so they’re not technically there to shoulder any emotional burdens you’re feeling, but they are there to make sure they can do whatever they can to make your work-days more productive.

If big meetings exhaust you with your display of faux-perkiness and you need some desk time alone afterwards, ensure to schedule that in, and bring it up with your boss if it looks like it could become a problem.

If working alone intensifies your depression, it’s reasonable for you to mention this and ask if you could do more work on group projects or in tandem with other team members or departments.

Managers should know all their employees’ sweet spots, tough spots and preferred working style.

From the perspective of a depressed employee, holy-hell it’s a terrifying thought to tell anyone – let alone your boss – that you’re depressed.

Will they think you’re less capable? Will they think you’ve been slacking off for ages? Will they ask you what you’ve got to be so sad about?

Spoiler: No, and if they do vocalise anything like this then that’s your cue to get HR on the scene.

It can be scary, but ask your manager to schedule some time in so you don’t end up casually blurting it out as they’re washing their hands in the next bathroom sink to you/laughing it off by the vending machine. Try to talk to them in a quiet, private space where you have time to talk through your concerns. Keep in mind that you should:

  • Tell them what support you need from them currently – it could be time off, changed hours, more / less remote working, or organising therapy and thus leaving early on Tuesdays, for example
  • Flag up if there’s anything that you might need extra support with in the future
  • Not put pressure on yourself to be an expert about what will help you. It’s fine if you don’t know and just need your manager to be looking out for you.

So many of us have mental health struggles, the chances are you won’t be the first person to mention this to your manager in either their professional or personal life. Remember this brilliant CEO response that was understanding and not patronising? That could be you receiving that.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, you can find a qualified local counsellor in your area with Counselling Directory. Mental health charity Mind also offer counselling services, and you can call The Samaritans on 116 123 (UK and ROI). The NHS even have a little quiz you can take. If you can, visit your GP for further advice. To talk about mental health in a private, judgement-free zone, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.

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