Workplace mental health: Is it a good idea to talk to my manager about my stress?

If you are wondering whether to talk about your mental health issues at work, this one is for you

Priyanka M

The pressure to meet deadlines, the stress of travelling to the workplace, workload and office environment are some the stressors that many employees face on a daily basis. These can significantly impact a person's mental wellbeing. 

Many people choose not to talk to their colleagues about their emotional state at work because they fear being judged, ridiculed, seen as weak, and because of the worry that this information will be shared with others. On the other hand, not addressing your emotional distress may affect your professional life and result in slowed work productivity, poor decision making and comprehension. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and think you are unable to perform to your potential, you may want to talk to someone about it. Here are some common queries answered.

I don't need any help. I can manage on my own, can't I?

Everyone needs help at some point in their lives. If a person has bodyache or a light fever, they can manage on their own with rest and diet. If te problem persists or worsens, they will need treatment and medication. It is the same with mental health. You can make lifestyle adjustments for self-care and to manage the situation better. But if the problem persists, reaching out can help you get support in dealing with your situation.

How can talking about mental health at work help me? I can get help outside...

We spend a lot of our time at work, and the work environment impacts our mental health. If you have a supportive manager, you may be able to receive practical as well as emotional support at work. If you need specific types of support (e.g., flexibility in hours, days off, or a reevaluation of your tasks to allow for a better work-life balance), it may be easier for your manager to understand your requests once they have the context. That said, it is important to go with your sense of whether there is space for such a conversation at your workplace.

What are my options to reach out for help?

At work, you can reach out to your colleagues, and if you have someone whom you have a good rapport with, try talking to them. Alternatively, you can talk to your manager. If you believe your colleague or manager may not be able to help you, talk to your HR personnel. Some organisations have EAP or employee assistance programs which include some stress management resources along with trained counselors to assist you. 

But is it really okay to talk about my distress with my manager?

It depends on the manager and your rapport with them – whether they are empathetic, whether you trust that they possess skills to understand your emotional distress, whether the manager is able to listen and empathize with your issue, how they may respond to such situations (or have responded to similar situations in the past), and whether you trust them to handle this information with care. Often, managers are shaped in their responses by organizational policies and culture. So if the organizational culture promotes and accepts mental health issues and requires the managers to do the same, then the manager will be required to be responsive and supportive.

What if my workplace is not resourceful enough to help me?

Often workplaces do not create space for employees to discuss their emotional distress; and employees assume that speaking about distress leads them to be seen as weak and unfit. Ideally, there should be several avenues for the employees to talk about their stresses and it is the responsibility of the organization to provide spaces for such conversations to occur. If you believe that it is insufficient for tackling your stresses, seek professional help outside of workplace. Meanwhile, here are some things organizations can do for their employees:

  • Taking up peer level initiatives, along with constant communication with employees about the importance of mental health issues

  • Communicating with the employees about the importance of mental health and wellbeing, through various organisational intiatives

  • Opening up of multiple avenues for seeking help for employees

This content is created with inputs from Maullika Sharma, clinical head at Workplace Options, Bangalore and Tanuja Babre, program associate at iCall psychosocial helpline, Mumbai.