Sobriety - Relationships in Recovery

Communicating Mental Health Needs in the Workplace

A constructive talk with your employer about your mental health reduces the potential for depression, anxiety, or substance addiction.

Communicating Mental Health Needs in the Workplace

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

February 11, 2022

The Edge Treatment Center

A healthy workplace environment is an essential factor in your physical and mental health. Some people find purpose, structure, or balance in their job. You may find social status or identify yourself by your job. Work can become an essential part of who you are. It can create friendships, give you a sense of fulfillment or achievement, and give you a place to put skills to use. Your career can be a determinant of how you feel about yourself.

The thing is, the influence your workplace has on you affects your mental and physical health.  Working in a toxic environment damages your self-esteem and increases your risk of mental health disorders, which affect your productivity, motivation, and physical health. Poor workplaces also increase the risk of engaging with harmful substances to help you cope with your emotions.

Toxic Workplaces

A toxic workplace is bad for everyone's mental and emotional health, but it can be especially detrimental for someone in recovery from substance abuse. Several factors play into hostile workplaces. Some are:

  • Understaffing: A heavy workload or unrealistic expectations can wear on you.

  • Shifting responsibilities: Change is difficult for some. When your responsibilities change, or you're unsure of your role, you can feel destabilized or stressed.

  • Extended hours: Some jobs require long hours. If your job gradually or suddenly demands increased work hours without explanation or compensation, it can negatively affect your well-being. Long work hours eat into your relationships, free time, and doing the things you need to do to thrive (like therapy or 12-Step meetings).

  • Harassment: Whether the harassment comes from colleagues or your employer, it affects your overall health. Harassment from equals or higher-ups also diminishes positive relationships and trust and contributes to a power imbalance.

  • Lack of support from your higher-ups: Employers that increase hours or workloads may fail to understand how these changes affect you. Similarly, if they assign you tasks but don't provide any support to help you understand how to do them, your performance may suffer through no fault of your own, causing self-doubt or other negative feelings.

If you experience any of these things in your workplace, it's probably time for a talk with your employer about mental health issues.

Symptoms of Mental Health Issues at Work

Occasionally, everyone has a day or two at work that stink. Whether it's because coffee spilled on your clothes or the computer crashed in the middle of a project, feeling out of sorts, exhausted, underappreciated, or stressed isn't uncommon. What is troublesome is if these feelings persist and don't go away. If these feelings are constant or seem to happen without prompting, it might be a sign of a mental health disorder.

The symptoms of mental health disorders can differ from person to person. When you pay attention to how you feel, behave, or think, you have a better chance of catching a mental health disorder in its early stages. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, reach out to a therapist and start a conversation with your employer about your mental health:

  • Loss of concentration while at work

  • Constant fatigue

  • Decreased productivity

  • Feeling hopeless, fearful, or aggravated

  • Persistent feelings of inadequacy or underperformance

  • Suicidal thoughts

Talking to Your Employer About Mental Health

Your mental health is essential, so don't wait to talk with your employer about your feelings. Approach your supervisor before depression or anxiety affect your work or put your job at risk. 

Beginning a constructive conversation about your mental health with your employer relies on your relationship with them and your workplace environment. For example, if your employer is the person who harasses you, talk to HR or a middle manager instead. Before you speak with your employer, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your employer the cause of your decrease in mental well-being? Your mental health may feel threatened by a coworker, supervisor, or employer. Make sure you talk to the appropriate person depending on the situation.

  • What kind of relationship do you have with your supervisor? If you feel comfortable with your supervisor or trust them with your feelings, feel free to communicate your concerns with them. Trusting your supervisor is essential to helping you find the help you require.

  • How does your workplace feel about mental health issues? Some workplaces foster healthy conversations about mental health and the needs of their employees.

Here are a few tips to make a conversation more straightforward:

  • Find the right time to talk. Don't ambush your employer as they walk in the door or are in the middle of a project. Instead, schedule a time to speak with them. Consider making the appointment during a day or week when things are quiet in the office.

  • Don't list your complaints. Instead, discuss what impacts your job productivity. Be prepared to give examples of how specific instances caused negative mental health outcomes. 

  • Have solutions. Before you go into the appointment, think of ways your supervisor can help you decrease your stress and increase your work performance. Providing some realistic solutions to a problem aid in discovering possible alterations to a heavy workload or extended hours.

Once you have the conversation, give your supervisor some time to process your concerns. Then, make an appointment for a follow-up discussion.

Communicating Mental Health Needs Is Part of a Healthy Work Environment

Communicating your mental health needs to your employer is essential for creating a healthy work environment. An unhealthy work environment can exacerbate existing mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. Repressed feelings damage your mind and body and put your job at risk.

If your emotional and mental well-being is at stake, schedule an appointment with your employer to discuss possible solutions. If your mental health has suffered due to workplace toxicity (or pushed you into substance abuse), The Edge Treatment Center can help. Contact us today to learn more.

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