How to Be Open with Employers After a Mental Health Disorder Diagnosis

Mental health disorders are unlike any other sickness or disease. You will not get a doctor’s note to get you out of work. You have to go in and face the situation, or more specifically, the manager that you have to confide in. It’s scary but there is no way around it. 

Back in 2020 when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Depression, it was as shocking as it was a relief to hear the answer that had been eluding me. The scarier moments came when I started thinking about what others would say. Instead of worrying about what others would do it became clear that I had to turn my focus to what I could do. It turns out that we are capable of being our own best advocates for mental health. We can choose to start the conversation and be the leader of our own self-care. There are ways to be open with employers about mental health diagnoses while retaining your personal dignity and sense of privacy. 

Where to Begin

These steps are effective tools you can use to reveal your diagnosis in a professional and solutions-oriented way.

  1. Stop feeling ashamed because it does not help.

The American Psychology Association shares this: “A total of 87% of American adults agreed that having a mental health disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, and 86% said they believe that people with mental health disorders can get better.”

When you feel ashamed you bobble in the risky waters of the “pity party.” This is not helpful to those who are suffering. What does help is a conversation of understanding and solutions that move you forward.

  1. Get specific about which employee benefits and resources you have access to.

Confusion about benefits is not a new story. In fact, 49% of people are unclear of what they have signed up for and how to best make use of the resources available to them.

It may feel like a weird time to become a workplace policy wonk, but you must have a clear understanding of your benefits and company policies regarding mental health disorder. Examples are knowing what the policies offer for insurance coverage, work from home days, time off for therapy appointments, and so on. Remember, that it is important that this is documented information on policy, otherwise it could be a “what’s here now is gone tomorrow” situation…and tomorrow may be the day you really need that opportunity to work from home.

  1. Don’t talk to your employer, talk with your employer.

Communication is critical. Research shows that 86% of employees and executives cite the lack of effective collaboration and communication as the main causes for workplace failures. This stat is productivity-related, therefore relevant to communication regarding mental health topics and you in the workplace.

Invite your employer in to be a part of the solution. This professional integrity gives you a chance to demonstrate your commitment to your job, while also sharing why your mental health diagnosis can be effectively managed in conjunction with it. Even offer the brochure from the doctor’s office that explains what you have, specifically. The more educated everyone is, the more they can rally as a team.

These first three steps are the tough part of the conversation. But you finally said the words you needed to say. 

Along the Way

While you have to do your self-work to manage your mental health diagnosis, you should also welcome the opportunity to stay engaged with your employer. Even if you’re secretive, your employer can be a powerful ally. The best way to do this is to keep your employer in the loop with updates.

  • Give a schedule of time you know you’ll need to be away from the workplace.
  • Decide on how to best share progress, whether it is a biweekly or monthly meeting, or via email.
  • Have an open communication policy between you and your employer. When either one of you has a concern, address it proactively to avoid undue stress or misunderstandings. 

When you are facing a troubling challenge that is life-altering it is easy to lose sight of the end goal—your wellness.

A Brighter Day

As dark as your day may feel when you suffer from a mental health disorder, you must have faith that brighter days are ahead. The employer is, by design, supposed to be your ally for success. Mental health is a vital component to a thriving work environment because everyone’s aspiration should be to heal what is broken and fractured so it can become whole. This can be done, and it begins with you giving an employer the chance to rise to the challenge.

By: Natasha Brown

Natasha Bowman, known as ‘The Workplace Doctor’ has developed a reputation as an expert consultant through her firm Performance ReNEW and for nearly 20 years, she has worked to remodel the American workplace from the inside out. She recently went viral after revealing her bipolar disorder diagnoses on LinkedIn and unmasking how current workplaces have contributed to the mental health crisis across the globe.