When you’re navigating a mental health obstacle, few things can feel more impacted than your work life. The relationship between work and mental health can go both ways: a toxic work environment can make it harder to manage mental health, and needing to take time off to take care of mental health needs can make balancing work feel tricky. Maybe -- in an extreme case -- your boss is emotionally abusive.
Today, we're sharing our thoughts about Barbara Ricci's recent piece in the Harvard Business Review about when and how to talk to supervisors and colleagues about a mental health break from work.
Ricci, a former managing director at two international banks and a board member at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), softens the stigma around taking time off work for mental health reasons. She provides advice that may resonate with anyone working through their own mental health issues, including concrete ideas about how to speak to your boss and human resources department, what to look for in company policies, and what your rights are when you need to take time off.
Ricci also provides tangible ideas for the return to work, including honoring your transition period (even if that means returning part-time or in a different capacity), talking through the transition with those involved in your mental health treatment (like your therapist or psychiatrist), and anticipating that coworkers will ask you about your absence (and preparing in advance an answer that feels right to you).
All of us would benefit from integrating Ricci's advice into our daily self-care, regardless of our work circumstances. For example, maintaining a routine, giving ourselves time to rest, and practicing gratitude are all things that can have a profoundly positive effect.
Ricci ends her piece on a helpful, proactive note. “If you want to have a conversation with your boss or colleagues about your health,” she writes, “Do it on your own terms, when work is going well and you are in an unemotional state. You might make yourself more vulnerable with those you trust, but being able to share your diagnosis can help to dispel myths and reduce stigma. Talking about mental health, just as one would talk about physical health, sends a powerful message that it’s OK to get help.”