Considerations for Discussing Mental Health Issues at Work

October 2020
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Amid 2020’s coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest, the share of adults reporting anxiety or depression has soared, reaching 40.9 percent by mid-July, compared to 11 percent a year earlier, U.S. Census Bureau data says.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, employees struggling with mental health issues might be unsure whether to ask for accommodations such as a different schedule, extended remote-work or a leave of absence.

Wait too long to disclose anxiety or depression and your work performance might suffer, says Jenny Haykin, who manages programs for employee leave and accommodations at Puget Sound Energy, a gas-and-electricity provider in Bellevue, Wash. But reveal the problem too early and you might face discrimination, warns Sharona Hoffman, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio. “Do ask for help you absolutely need,” Hoffman says.

Jill Hooley, a psychology professor at Harvard University, recommends telling the boss when you need time off to address anxiety or depression. Still, she cautions, there’ “more stigma out there than we would like to think.”

If your company offers free counseling, then it might be safe to open up, says Kelly Greenwood, CEO of Mind Share Partners, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that helps organizations support mental health in the workplace.

In past years, “employees would disappear on leave” with no explanation, Haykin says. Now, they’re frank “about why they’re going out and what they need when they come back.”

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