Advice for if you feel worried speaking to an employer about your mental health challenges

The Equality Act 2010 is legislation designed to give rights to those with ‘protected characteristics’; disability is one of those characteristics. This allows for a mental health difficulty to come under the protection of the law.

However, speaking to an employer about a mental health challenge can still be intimidating. For this post, I’ve collated first-hand advice professions working in industry and best practise from university careers services to hopefully help make this process easier.

Anastasia Vinnikova, Co-Chair of Bank of England’s Mental Health Network

“If you have decided to open up to someone in the workplace about your mental health, I think it is important to find the right person who you are comfortable with. It may be that there is a dedicated individual or team within the organisation who looks after employee wellbeing, and they will be well placed to have those discussions. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a specialist. Perhaps there is someone in the workplace with whom you have a trusting relationship and will find it easier to open up to. However, most importantly – don’t be afraid. It shows great strength to open up about mental health challenges. It can be a scary prospect (understandably) but people can really surprise you and provide you with the support, understanding and uplift to help you thrive.”

Richard Bentley, Creative Director, Postcard Productions

“A tool we have found useful for building relationships with staff are WRAPS (Wellness Recovery Action Plans). They give us the head up on issues which may be a problem, and if used widely could be an effective way of increasing openness, reducing stigma in work culture and recognising that we all struggle from time to time. Talking openly about mental health difficulties is actually a preventative measure, which as an employer I feel will ultimately increase productivity and wellbeing for everyone.”

Taken from Channel 4’s Employing Disabled Talent, which can be viewed here.

Peter Grace, Accenture

“Please, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to people, confide in a friend and seek help if you think something isn’t right. You will not be judged and people will want to help out.

The most challenging element of [my] role is the often critical deadlines and associated anti-social hours that can go hand in hand with when systems fail, which itself is obviously unplanned…telling my story and my team, my client and my line manager all understand our own boundaries of each other – we work very well as a team and share the load and are able to be flexible around our own life activities.”

Taken from MyPlus Student Club case studies, which can be viewed here.

Student Services – Loughborough University

“The decision whether to tell an employer about a disability is an individual one and may depend on various factors such as:

  • How comfortable you feel about telling other people
  • How disability-friendly you perceive the employer to be
  • How the disability may impact on your ability to do the job
  • How confident you feel in asking for support when you need it.

Taken from the Student Workplace Wellbeing resources at Loughborough University, which can be found here.

AGCAS Disability Task Group

“Deciding whether to disclose your mental health condition is a personal choice. If you do decide to disclose you may want to bear the following in mind:

  • You are not alone: According to the charity Mind, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.
  • Be prepared to provide information: Don’t assume the employer will understand your condition, without further information from you: Be prepared to describe your condition simply and briefly, and how it affects you. If your condition changes over time, let the employer know what affects the severity of your symptoms, either positively or negatively.
  • Share what’s relevant: It is important to avoid jargon and to share information about your mental health condition that is relevant. You may find it helpful to practise saying what you are going to share so that you feel confident discussing it.
  • Focus on your strengths: Don’t assume that an employer will view you in a negative way. As a result of your mental health condition you have probably developed resilience, greater empathy, and the ability to meet challenges and cope with change. These are invaluable skills in the workplace. Focus on what you CAN do rather than what you struggle with, and provide examples of how your condition has not limited your achievements, academic or work performance.
  • Assert your needs: Be open and tell potential employers what adjustments you may need in order to fulfil the role requirements. “

Taken from ‘Explaining your mental health condition to others’ by the AGCAS Disability Task Group. This resource also includes information about what to consider in the recruitment process, when starting work and whilst in work. This resource is available to HE Universities and can be found here.

  • Christian Jameson-Warren

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