How To Talk About Your Mental Health at Work

17 Jan ‘22
3 min
Editorial Board OpenUp
illustratie van twee mensen helpen die elkaar omhoog of verder helpen

We spend a large part of our time at work. And even though we all want to make sure we’re giving 100% each day, there are times when things just don’t go as planned. No one is immune to this, we’re all human. Despite this, we all have a tendency to want to keep our mental challenges to ourselves. However, it’s actually very important to discuss the things you’re struggling with at work.

 

Why is that the case? How can you open this conversation and who should you speak to? And when is it better to keep quiet? Psychologist Madelief Falkmann is here to explain.

 

“Keeping problems to yourself instead of talking about them can actually cause more stress and negative feelings to arise.”

 

Why is it so important to be able to talk openly about your mental health?

 

Madelief: “Talking about mental health in the workplace creates transparency. If you’re not feeling so good, it can really help to speak to a colleague or your manager. This way it can be taken into account when addressing your situation or workload.

 

Maybe it’s possible to make some adjustments that would allow you to do your job more comfortably. Keeping problems to yourself instead of discussing them with other people, can actually cause more stress and negative feelings to arise.”

 

However, this isn’t easy for everyone.

 

“True, it’s also quite tricky. Even now, mental health is still often viewed as a taboo subject, despite the fact that it affects literally everybody. We all have to look after our own mental health, as well as our physical health.

 

We all go through difficult situations, periods and emotions. It’s all a part of life.

 

In today’s society, we’re under constant pressure to stay busy and keep a lot of plates spinning at once, but almost no one really manages this. We all go through difficult situations, periods and emotions.

 

By being honest with other people about this, you’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable, which encourages others to do the same, where necessary. It’s about accepting that things don’t always have to be going well for you, and that this is just a part of life.”

 

How can you push past that barrier and make mental health challenges open to discussion?

 

“Always make sure that you’re well prepared for any conversation like this. Think about what you want to get across and for what purpose. What would you class as a successful conversation?

 

It might help to write these things down and maybe discuss them with a friend. Use your points as a guide if you feel tense prior to the conversation. At the beginning of the conversation, you could also explain that you’re finding it difficult to get started and that you’d like to keep referring to the points you’ve written out.”

 

When is a good time to have a conversation like this and who should you be speaking to?

 

“First of all, it’s important that you feel comfortable with the person you’re sharing this information with. Additionally, you might want to consider who really needs to know what is going on.

 

It might be the case that you’d feel more comfortable speaking to one of your colleagues, but it’s your manager who really needs to know the full story. If this is true, you can try speaking with your colleague first and seeing if that person is able to sit in during the conversation as support.

 

If you notice that your mental health is starting to affect your work then it’s always a good idea to start a conversation. But even if it isn’t affecting your work, it might still be helpful to enter into a conversation, if it’s something that is causing you a lot of concern.”

 

Ask yourself this question: “If I talk about this, will it make me feel less stressed?”

 

Is it sometimes better to keep quiet?

 

“In every instance, it’s important that there’s a sufficient degree of trust between you and the person you’re speaking to and that you feel ‘safe’ enough to be open and vulnerable. It’s also absolutely essential that you’re in a psychologically safe working environment.

 

This is an organization where all conversations like this will be kept private and you feel comfortable enough to share personal information.

 

Evelien Brouwers, Professor of Mental Health and Sustainable Employment, conducted research into mental health problems amongst employees and she recommends asking yourself two questions before deciding to share.

 

The first question is: “Does my mental health problem affect my work?” And the second is: “If I share this, will I feel less stressed?” If your answer to both these questions is ‘no’ then it’s better to hold back because you don’t want to risk unnecessary negative consequences.”

 

Read also: When To Take a Mental Health Day (and How To Do It)

 

What should you do if you sense that a colleague isn’t doing so well and needs help?

 

“If you notice that somebody is behaving differently or seems out of sorts, then try asking them how they’re doing in a one-on-one setting and if there’s anything you can do to help.

 

Does this person need something you can help with? Make sure they know that you’re happy to offer a listening ear and that they can always reach out to you if they need to. This way the person can decide for themselves whether or not they want to engage in conversation.”

 

What should you do if you sense that they need more help?

 

“During this process, you can indicate that you’d be happy to offer further support, referencing external help. You can suggest services that might be useful, such as a company doctor, primary care physician or psychologist.

 

The most important thing is to offer a listening ear, not pass judgement, and to help them to think about what kind of help they might need and where they can get it. That usually makes a world of difference.”

 

Are you dealing with mental challenges and would you like to discuss them with somebody? Talking to a psychologist will help. Schedule a no-obligation introductory session with one of our psychologists. We’re always here for you, whatever the question.