Talking about your mental health at work: how can I approach this?


Stress, depression and anxiety disorders often lead to longer absences from work than other types of health problems. Therefore, it is important to discuss these problems.



Research shows that two-thirds of employees do not discuss their mental health with their employer and are often reluctant to ask for time off or leave from their employer. This is because of self-stigma: people are ashamed of their mental health issues. As a result, employees continue to work despite their complaints. As a result, they will feel even worse, and the risk of long-term absenteeism will increase.


What are the downsides if I don’t talk about it?

Many people remain silent about their problems, partly because of the self-stigma and the taboo, which – unfortunately – still surrounds the topic of mental health. However, being silent ensures that the complaints continue to increase and the taboo surrounding mental health issues continues to persevere. The longer you avoid the subject without talking about it, the heavier the burden will become.


What are the benefits if I do talk about it?

Fortunately, there is another way to do it: openness and honesty about your mental health can be very rewarding. Sometimes, the smallest adjustments to your environment can provide mental relief. And if you feel better mentally, you will be more resilient to stress, experience more job satisfaction and your work performance will improve. Many people who have been through the same experience indicate that the anxiety of exposing their problems ultimately did not outweigh the social support and positive reactions they received after being open about it.


What’s the best way to talk openly about your mental health?

It is important to establish the extent to which you are limited in your day-to-day functioning. Not everyone with psychological problems is equally burdened and limited in their daily functioning. Make an overview of who you would like to inform. Think about a manager/supervisor, for example. You don’t have to tell them everything and you certainly don’t have to inform the entire company. Try writing down:

  • What exactly am I struggling with at work?
  • What do I think would help, what are my needs?
  • What can I do to improve my situation?
  • How would I want my colleagues and supervisor to deal with it? What do I possibly need from them?
  • What are my strengths?

Not only is it important to tell them what your problems are, it is also important to provide possible solutions and indicate what you think you are going to need from them. Emphasize what you can do and indicate what your limitations are.


Last and most important tip: don’t wait too long to tell someone what’s on your mind

Mental health problems are more common than you might initially think; more than 4 in 10 people have had one or more mental illnesses in their lifetime. By talking about our problems and making them an open topic of conversation, we can all break the taboo and work on appropriate solutions.



College voor de Rechten van de Mens, De juiste persoon op de juiste plaats, 2013

L. B. Gates e.a., Mental health problems in the workplace: changes in employers knowledge, attitudes and practice in England 2006-2010, 2013 /

A. Smit, Psychische diversiteit op het werk en de rol van de werkgever, 2014

J. van Weeghel e.a., Handboek destigmatisering bij psychische aandoeningen, 2016

C. Dewa, Worker attitudes towards mental health problems and disclosure, 2014

S. de Vries, (red.), Diversiteit: hoofd, hart en buik. De inclusieve aanpak, Assen: Van Gorcum, 2010


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