Should you ever tell your boss that you have depression?

Disclosing a mental health condition to a manager can be tricky to navigate.

Disclosing a mental health condition to a manager can be tricky to navigate.

Disclosing a mental health condition to a manager can be tricky to navigate.

Depression is a mental health condition that affects millions of people every day. One in five people reported being diagnosed with depression at some point in their life, according to a 2023 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And what you bring with you at home can also follow you to work.

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Many times people see depression as just sadness and don’t necessarily understand how all the other symptoms also negatively impact your work, said Nevada clinical psychologist Tanisha Ranger. She cited insomnia, memory problems, low concentration and motivation, and increased irritability as some of the symptoms that could affect your ability to work in depression.

In an ideal world, you might have an open line of communication with your boss about internal factors affecting your ability to get the job done.

The world I want us all to live in is one where sharing that you’re depressed would just give you all the support you need at work, said psychologist and career coach Lauren Appio. This could be practical support, such as taking time off, adjusting your schedule to fit your treatment, or making changes to your workload. Even simple acknowledgments can be meaningful – it always helps to get some grace and sympathy if you’ve fallen behind on your email, for example.

Unfortunately, for too many of us we don’t work under those ideal conditions. The stigma against mental health struggles is still very real. Only 49 percent of respondents positively described their experience talking about mental health at work, according to a 2021 study by the nonprofit Mind Share Partners.

Sometimes, though, employees have no choice but to disclose.

Employees with a mental illness may need to disclose their condition in order to receive necessary accommodations. Research also suggests that disclosure may lead to greater feelings of authenticity and less energy spent thinking about whether or not to disclose at work, said Auburn University management professor Jaclyn Koopmann, who published research on mental illness and work. .

That’s why it’s so critical to be strategic about if, when, and how you disclose your depression to your boss. That’s how:

Start by making suggestions to colleagues you feel safe with.

The main reason you might want to disclose your mental health condition to your boss is if it’s impacting your work and you need some accommodation. Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, you may be eligible for reasonable work accommodations such as permission to work from home, a modified shift schedule, or quiet office space if your circumstances meet them.

But backlash to disclosure of a mental health fight is still common, whether or not the law is on your side.

In general, disclosure research shows that employees who disclose that they have a mental illness may risk lower social acceptance and inclusion from coworkers and supervisors, Koopmann said. In a study published in the Academy of Management journal, Koopmann and her fellow researchers found that employees commonly test the waters before deciding to share more about their mental health challenges because of it.

Employees could partially disclose, not fully disclose that they have a diagnosed condition, or leave hints to see how colleagues might react to a more complete disclosure, Koopmann said.

Familiarize yourself with your workplace resources and observe how your boss talks about mental health.

In addition to making suggestions to colleagues, see if your workplace has clear guidelines for accessing mental health-related accommodations and whether colleagues were supported when they sought these accommodations, Appio suggested.

You may also want to observe whether your boss is modeling care and consideration for their own mental health.

A boss who talks openly about their mental health, takes mental health days and makes full use of any necessary accommodations or benefits like taking full parental leave, etc. in other words, walkers may also be more reliable, Appius said.

Also consider how your boss has reacted to coworkers who needed accommodations for other reasons, such as pregnancy, elder care or bereavement, Appio said.

A boss who is generally supportive and responsive in these instances is more likely to be respectful and receptive to an employee who discloses depression, she said. But if they treat those needs as trivial, inconvenient, and frustrating, you can be pretty sure they won’t be super understanding, or worse, actively discriminatory.

Observe how your manager talks about their mental health.

Observe how your manager talks about their mental health.

Observe how your manager talks about their mental health.

If you choose to share with your boss, enter with solutions.

Eventually, you get to know yourself better and how your depression is affecting your work day.

When talking to your boss, you want to be able to share what proposed solutions would help you get your job done instead of making your boss guess what you need.

To do that, think about what tasks are required for the job and if there are any accommodations that might make it easier, or if there are parts of the job you can no longer do right now, Ranger suggested.

Is there anything you need that you can’t make yourself? Ranger said you can ask. When you’re disclosing, frame housing as something that will help you remain a productive and engaged employee.

Because of the stigmas associated with mental health, it’s in your best interest to keep mentioning that I’d like to be able to perform at my optimal levels of productivity, and here are a few things I might need to be able to do that, Ranger said.

You also don’t necessarily have to disclose that your depression is the reason you need a casual arrangement like a flexible workday.

You can start small with little things that generally don’t negatively impact your workplace without saying, «It’s because of my depression.» Start there, Ranger advised.

Some places will respect your privacy if you keep your request general, for example: I need accommodation due to a medical problem or, I would like to apply for medical leave. This can be a good way to start the conversation and see if more information is required, Appio said.

From there, you could talk to your therapist, psychiatrist or other provider who would share that documentation about what information you feel comfortable and uncomfortable with disclosing it, he added.

If your boss isn’t a safe person to confide in, there are still ways to get what you need.

If your boss wouldn’t be a good person to share your request with, you could also try taking your housing request to HR or another manager, but there’s no guarantee the information will be kept private, Appio said.

It also helps to keep a paper trail of your informal or formal requests, so you can trace the documentation if necessary.

Any request for mental health accommodation must be made in writing. An easy way to do this is to send a follow-up email summarizing any conversations you have with your boss or HR, Appio said.

And ultimately, if you’re unable to get any accommodations and your workload is exacerbating your depression, you may need to quit your job to protect your mental health, Ranger said.

Obviously this is a last resort, but it needs to be on the table, because your well-being is your primary directive, Ranger said.


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