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Cecily Sheppard

December 4th, 2023

To disclose or not to disclose: Top tips for talking to an employer about your mental health

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Cecily Sheppard

December 4th, 2023

To disclose or not to disclose: Top tips for talking to an employer about your mental health

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Whether you’re experiencing a long-term condition that impacts your day to day, or you’re facing temporary difficulties, talking to an employer about your mental health can feel overwhelming. You might be unsure of how your employer will react or of what support is available, or you may be concerned about being discriminated against because of sharing how you’re doing mentally.

As part of our programme of support for disabled students this term, LSE Careers co-hosted a fascinating discussion alongside careers professionals from a number of other universities about exactly this topic. At the event, we heard from some of PWC’s wellbeing team as well as two recent graduates, both with lived experience of managing mental health conditions in the workplace.

Here are ten top tips we took away from the discussion:

Firstly, remember you’re just starting a conversation.

It can feel scary to open up about your mental health, but that doesn’t mean you should approach it as a negative conversation. In starting a conversation about how you can bring your best self to work, many employers or managers will see you as proactive and respect you for it. Also, lots of people experience poor mental health at some time or another, and these days many employers actively encourage employees to talk about their wellbeing. One of the speakers mentioned how an HR rep actively thanked them for reaching out, as without these conversations HR teams cannot support staff.

Find confidence in the law.

Long-term mental health conditions are often legally considered disabilities (see Mind’s page on the Equality Act 2010), and this protects you from being discriminated against based on long-term poor mental health. Employers are also legally required to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for disabled employees. Although this doesn’t completely negate stigma, it can be reassuring to know the law is on your side when talking to your employer about what support or adjustments you might need.

Research employers before interviewing.

Sometimes bringing up your mental health at interview can feel like jumping into the unknown, especially if you’re not sure how the interviewer may react. By researching the organisation beforehand, you’ll have a better understanding of the support available. Dedicated staff networks, opportunities to train in Mental Health First Aid, or a Disability Confident charter mark can all be good signs.

You could also use the interview as an opportunity to ask something like ‘How does your company approach employee mental health?’ before discussing your own needs. For more information about disability-inclusive employers, read our blog post: How to identify inclusive employers (focus on disability).

Be your biggest advocate.

All the speakers on the panel noted the importance of knowing yourself and what you need. Often, even if you disclose a mental health condition on a diversity monitoring form, this won’t be shared with the hiring manager. This means it’s important you consider who it may be useful, and who you feel comfortable, to also talk to in your workplace. Know your rights and what you need…

Come to your chat prepared with some suggestions of adjustments (and push through any awkwardness).

Your line manager is unlikely to really understand what support you might need, and it may feel awkward at first to discuss your experiences. Even if your manager has experienced mental ill-health themselves, adjustments at work are often unique to you as an individual. It can therefore be useful to come to a conversation about your mental health with some ideas of adjustments that could be made to help you – this could be changes to your working pattern or how things are organised, updating your work environment, or having some flexibility in whether you work from home or in the office. You can also ask for adjustments at the interview stage, such as more time in interview tasks or to see the questions ahead of the interview.

For some ideas of adjustments you might find helpful, check out My Plus Students’ Club.

Ask for support, even if you’re waiting on a diagnosis.

Employers are human! And regardless of whether you have a formal diagnosis, most employers want you to be able to bring your best self to your role. That includes making adjustments to help you do your role to the best of your ability. You also don’t need a diagnosis to be considered disabled, and therefore if your condition is long-term you are also often still protected by the Equality Act 2010.

Look for an ally or someone to talk to.

This could be your manager, someone in HR, or a colleague in a related staff network. Having someone you can talk to, especially someone who knows the organisation or industry you’re in, can be helpful when you’re navigating poor mental health. They can also help you instigate conversations with other colleagues if this might be useful. Most importantly though, having someone to talk to will help you feel less alone, which can be a huge barrier for anyone struggling with their mental health.

Find the balance between professional success and professional contentment.

One of the speakers mentioned how as a student she was always aiming for professional success, but didn’t really ever stop to think about whether she was happy. Her key piece of advice was to make sure you strike a balance between career development and looking after your own wellbeing – otherwise, you could be on the road to burning out. We spend so much of our time at work, it’s important our work is fulfilling as well as challenging.

Frame adjustments as asking for air con in a very hot kitchen…

Okay, maybe not literally. But one speaker spoke very candidly about how while conversations don’t always go the way you hope, they are always worth having. She noted that at times she had heard the phrase “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen” but she pointed out that asking for adjustments doesn’t make you any less competent. In fact, it’s like having very good chefs working in a very hot kitchen – installing some air con won’t make them any less competent as chefs, it will just ensure they can do their roles to the best of their ability.

Most importantly: Remember it is 100% your choice whether to disclose or not (and when).

There is absolutely no obligation to disclose a mental health condition to your employer, whether that’s at interview, once you’re offered the role, or once you’ve been in a role several years! The most important thing is to make sure you’re happy to talk, and not pressure yourself if you’re not ready.

For more information about careers support for disabled students at LSE, please visit our diversity and inclusion webpages.

If you’d like to discuss anything related to your career and being disabled, remember you can book an appointment with a specialist careers consultant by emailing careers.disability@lse.ac.uk.

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About the author

Cecily Sheppard

Cecily is the Marketing and Communications Manager for LSE Careers.

Posted In: Career planning | Career research | Disability and support for disabled students | Finding work | Insider tips | Interview | LSE Careers

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