Issues related to mental health disorders and substance use disorders can be difficult to talk about in the workplace. On the one hand, you may want to be sure that your coworkers and boss have a sense of what you have been going through. On the other hand, you may be concerned that you will be looked down upon or distrusted if you share the details of your difficulties.
Making the Best Decision for Your Situation
Let’s imagine that you have been away from work for a while to get help for a mental health issue, a substance use disorder, or a combination of the two. Perhaps you discussed all of this with your employer when you requested time off. Or maybe you put in for some vacation and didn’t tell anyone what you planned to do during your time away. In either case, you have some decisions to make upon your return to the workplace.
You Could Take a ‘Less Is More’ Approach
You might decide that you are most comfortable keeping details of your mental health and/or recovery to yourself. You are certainly under no obligation to share this private information with your boss or those with whom you work.
One reason you might choose this route is the ongoing stigma around issues of mental health and substance use disorders. Unlike, say, a cancer diagnosis, which is likely to engender sympathy and offers to help from those you work with, a mental health or substance use disorder diagnosis may lead to negative stereotyping.
It is not your personal responsibility to attempt to overcome these stereotypes, and so it is perfectly understandable that you might choose to say as little as possible about challenges you have been facing.
You Could Opt for Open Communication
While you are not required to disclose personal information about your health, there may be some advantages to doing so. For example, your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that may provide mental health counseling at reduced rates or even at no cost to employees.
Openness about your situation may also make it easier to arrange for a schedule that allows you to get follow-up care. And your employer—particularly the human resources department—will have a good sense of what your company’s insurance plan does and does not cover. HR will also be able to explain how laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may be relevant to your situation.
We should note that in some workplaces, your supervisor may be required to disclose anything you share with them about your health to the organization’s HR department or with upper management. Having a sense of how confidential your conversation with your boss will be can be an important part of the decision-making process.
Tips for the Talk
If you decide the best option is talking openly with your boss, you will want to have a good plan so that the conversation is clear, professional, and not overlong. Some good practices include:
- Scheduling a 30-minute meeting: As a rule, your health is not a topic to discuss in an unstructured or unscheduled conversation. You will also want to schedule the conversation to occur in a place where your privacy is assured.
- Including an HR or union representative: Having someone in the room who understands the details of your company’s policies and obligations is a good idea. And if you invite such a person to the conversation, you can be sure they get accurate information from you rather than second-hand impressions from your supervisor. It is important to be honest about what you may need in terms of flexible scheduling or other accommodations related to your ongoing recovery.
- Keeping things positive: Remind your boss that mental health disorders and/or substance use disorders are diseases—and that getting the ongoing treatment and support you need will make you a better employee.
- Deciding in advance how much to share: It is only natural for your work supervisor to have questions about your situation and how it may impact your work. But you are not obligated to share every detail of your mental health or substance use treatment. Knowing in advance where your boundaries are can make it easier to ensure the conversation doesn’t stray into areas you would rather not talk about.
Make Sure You Are Being Honest With Yourself
While you are busy thinking about how much to disclose to your employer about your situation, it is just as important to think about how your job intersects with your mental health or substance use disorder. Upon careful reflection, you may determine that your current job does not provide the kind of environment necessary for you to sustain improved mental health or maintain your sobriety. If that’s the case, it is important that you consider other employment options that might serve you better.
Peak View Behavioral Health Is Ready to Help
If you are struggling with a mental health disorder, a substance use disorder, or a combination of the two, it is important that you get help right away. At Peak View Behavioral Health, we provide compassionate, evidence-based care in the form of personalized treatment plans. We can help you improve your mental health, put drugs or alcohol behind you, and move forward with confidence.