How To Advocate For Your Mental Health In A Difficult Work Environment
Mental health issues affect many people, especially in the workplace. While we may not realize the negative impact our work environment may be having on our co-workers or even ourselves, the World Health Organization reports that depression and anxiety have a serious impact on the global economy, resulting in $1 trillion of lost productivity every year. The most commonly reported causes in the workplace that contribute to these losses are bullying and harassment, especially in cases where those in managerial roles turn a blind eye to the problem. Although one would hope that in 2019 companies would take mental health issues and their causes seriously, that's not always the case.
If you're in a work environment that doesn't take mental health as seriously as they should, or one that doesn't emphasize the importance of work-life balance, things can get even more complicated. Although it may be difficult, learning to advocate for your mental health is crucial to taking care of yourself. Take asking for a mental health day as an example.
"I think the first step is being clear with yourself about why a mental health day is needed," therapist at the Frederick Psychology Center, Julieann Ipsan, LCSW-C, tells Bustle. "Is it exhaustion, family issues, [medication] changes, anxiety, etc.? Once you are clear with why you need the day, it is easier to communicate that to the powers that be."
It's that first step that could help you be an advocate for your own health, and pay attention to what you need. Here are seven ways you can stand up for your mental health in a difficult work environment, according to experts.
1. Create Awareness
Although many people have heard the term,"work-life balance," they may not understand what that really means. If that's the case, then it's important to create awareness.
"Start by talking to your manager about stress management and work-life balance and how it impacts you and your team," Jenn DeWall, millennial life and career coach, tells Bustle. "Be honest, let them know where you are coming from and come with solutions to solve the problem."
A big part about creating awareness is also having prepared solutions. "When you come with solutions it will be taken more seriously," DeWall says, "otherwise you risk it sounding like complaining."
2. Disclose As Much As You Feel Comfortable
If you're nervous to approach your boss, remind yourself that mental illness isn't seen the way it used to be.
In being completely candid and vulnerable, you're also allowing your boss a safe space to possibly share their own struggles, if they have them. "[D]on't just share the negative, but also provide others with the steps or solutions as to how they can tackle the same problem," Jackson says.
3. Mention How A Better Work-Life Balance Could Benefit The Company
Even if you're dealing with mental health issues because of the environment you're in, you should know you're definitely not alone and should address that when you go to your employer.
"Many managers are unaware or afraid to talk about work-life balance for fear of seeming like they don't have everything all together," DeWall says. "Be open and talk about it as a total company concern, not exclusive to you."
4. But Don't Be Scared To Use Yourself As An Example
Although you may be advocating for everyone in the company, don't be afraid to use yourself as an example — but also don't feel like you need to give them specifics.
"When it comes to talking to your boss about your mental health, in most cases you don’t have to disclose your mental health condition but general health issues that you may need some provisions for," behavioral scientist and relationship coach Clarissa Silva, tells Bustle. "Advocating for yourself can decrease the likelihood of experiencing negative symptoms that could impact your productivity."
Although Silva does suggest that, if you're close with your boss and feel comfortable doing so, sharing some details of your situation may make the conversation you're having much easier.
5. Educate Your Boss
"Educate your boss on the benefits of mindfulness activities and how it coincides with productivity and work-life balance," DeWall says. "There is a lot of data out there from leading organizations creating cultures that focus on mindfulness and work-life balance based on research. Show it to them!"
Because you have come prepared with solutions, DeWall recommends giving your boss ideas for stress management, such as suggesting mindful activities. "Ask if you could start doing group activities like walking or stretching," DeWall says.
6. Use It As A Tool To Recruit And Retain Employees
"Talk about the benefits of work-life balance and having a wellness program," DeWall says. "If your company is experiencing high turnover this is a great time to introduce the topics of work-life balance. Ask how you can help improve the work environment for current employees and create a program that helps attract talent."
People want to be in environments that don't just make them feel valuable, but under management of people who understand that people are human and not machines. Having a work-life balance is a selling point for many people, especially since many companies are embracing it as an important part of workplace environments.
7. Take Advantage Of Human Resource Services
"If you and your boss have poor communication, you might consider talking to the human resources department first," Silva says. "Oftentimes, HR will be familiar with the laws in your state and the conversation will be held confidential. They are also familiar with what your rights are and what your employer has to comply with."
All people are entitled to a healthy — mentally and physically — work environment. However, there are some tough bosses out there who would prefer to turn a blind eye to this fact. So never forget that HR is there to help.
It's not easy trying to achieve a healthy work-life balance, but when your mental health is at stake, it's so important to speak up.