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How to tell your employer about your mental health issue

This is part of a series examining the mental health experience in Canada's workplaces.Take part in our short survey (tgam.ca/mentalhealthsurvey) and add your voice to this important conversation. This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award, which honours companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Winners for 2017 will be announced at a conference in late spring. Sign up to receive an e-mail about registration for 2018 at www.employeerecommended.com.

If you were worried about your mental health at work and felt it was impacting your effectiveness, what would you do?

Some people will read this question and think that if they did – or do – have a concern about their mental health they would not feel comfortable talking to their employer out of fear of being judged.

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This is rooted in the term stigma and is a normal reaction. Stepping back from this question, every employee is paid a salary to do a job at an agreed-upon level of productivity. When someone knows they are not producing what they believe they're capable of, this can be frustrating and add another layer of stress and regret.

Having a game plan can help you feel confident if you need to have a conversation with your manager about a mental health issue.

Awareness

Before you talk to your employer about your concern, it's important to understand that in Canada, telling an employer about a health condition is called disclosure. You don't need to explain the cause, only what your limits are and what you need for support.

You can help your employer to help you by being prepared and knowing what you need in order to be successful. If you have a mental health issue or addiction, you are protected under The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You can't get in trouble or be prejudiced against if you ask your employer for support, but your employer doesn't need to create a job for you nor pay you if you can't do any work. See the article on workplace accommodations in this series for more details.

Preparing what you will say to your employer and how you will ask for support or an accommodation will help you clearly frame your needs and request. Don't assume that every employer and manager is trained and knows what to do. You can help them help you by being prepared.

Review the full checklist at mentalhealthworks.ca. Below is a brief overview of things to consider as you prepare to talk to your employer about your situation and needs:

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· Decide how you will describe your mental health issue.

· Provide your employer with resources and basic information on your mental health issue.

· Be clear about how your mental health is impacting your work and what you need to do your job effectively.

· Inform your employer of your strengths and your commitment.

· Let your employer know how to give you feedback on their concerns.

It's not uncommon for small- and medium-sized employers to not have the internal resources or managers who have been trained to support employees with mental health issues. You can organize some resources at online websites such as Workplace Strategies for Mental Health to help your manager understand their role in supporting you.

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Accountability

We each own our mental health, but we don't always need to do things by ourselves. It's perfectly fine and expected that a person with a mental health issue will – and is encouraged to – ask for support from their employer when needed. Most mental illnesses are treatable and asking for help is a first step toward taking control of your work situation. The goal is to help you return to your full potential, or as close to it as possible.

Action

Before you have the conversation with your employer, be crystal clear on the following so you know what systems you can tap into to support your recovery:

· Review your employer's respectful workplace, harassment, bullying and mental health policies. Find out to whom an employee reports their concerns.

· Find out if managers were trained in how to support employees with mental health issues in the workplace. This will help you understand the degree of readiness for your talk with your manager.

· Understand how your company's employee and family assistance program (EFAP) works. Ask your human resources person or the EFAP representative what your program includes with respect to resources, apps, online tools, articles, videos, programs and treatment options. Be clear on how many sessions are included and if there are any additional programs to support depression, addictions or trauma.

· Explore your benefits program to find out how much money you may have available each year for additional psychological services or professional counselling, and what professional mental health resources are approved for the insurance in your area.

Discover what internal programs are being offered by your employer that support employee mental health, such as mindfulness, meditation, coping skills, communications, caregiving, grief support and peer support. Understand how the programs work and are accessed.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

Janice MacInnis is the Manager of Organizational Health at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Add your voice and take part in our short mental health survey: (tgam.ca/mentalhealthsurvey)

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Bill More

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