mental health at work

Should You Talk About Your Mental Health at Work?

Work is a pivotal part of life – many of us spend as much or more time with colleagues as we do with our families. This means our work lives are affected as much or more by any mental health struggles as our home life is. But the decision to talk about these struggles at the workplace is typically a bit riskier. Many people worry sharing mental health struggles with a boss, supervisor, or colleague could jeopardise their livelihood.


The way work and mental health affect each other can go in a variety of ways. Some people find work a refuge from their mental health struggles, while others workers experience fallout from poor mental health like low productivity and low confidence. In both cases, ignoring how mental health struggles affect our work can lead to insecurity and unhealthy coping mechanisms, which worsen mental health in the long run. 

The four major work-related areas can be destabilised during mental health struggles are:

  • Engagement with our work
  • Job performance and productivity 
  • Communication with coworkers and team members 
  • Physical capacity to function and attend work 

Talking about your mental health at work is one potential way to stabilise these areas; however, doing so can come with risks.


Talking about mental health in the Indian workplace


Indian society broadly lacks awareness and support for mental health struggles and illness. This manifests in several ways ranging from outright denial of mental health struggles to conflating mental illness with incompetent. Such prejudices can seep into workplaces, which is why common wisdom suggests keeping quiet about mental health at the Indian workplace. 

However, Indian society is also increasingly engaging with mental health concerns thanks to the internet, the pandemic, and a younger, more curious generation of employees. This has led to serious conversations and policy changes in Indian workplaces, with new mandates aimed at encouraging honest conversations about employees’ mental health. This particular trend saw an uptick after the Covid19 pandemic, which led to record- high stress levels for employees and global burnout. 

Researching your workplace and its stance on mental health can give you a better idea of the kind of support (or lack of) you may receive upon sharing any struggles or illness. Beyond looking into HR policies, speak to co-workers and any former employees who dealt with mental health concerns at the same workplace to find out what support (if any) they received. This can provide insight into whether your employer is likely to use mental health struggles as a reason to delay professional growth, exclude employees from projects, or even phase employees with poor mental health out of the workforce.


Pros and cons of talking about mental health at work


Sharing mental health struggles requires careful consideration. The first decision is often around whom to divulge this information to. Several factors come into play when choosing these people, ranging from confidentiality to the ability to influence your workload. Typically, the following roles are the best to speak with:

  • A Manager

    Pros: A manager holds a significant influence over your workload. Speaking with them about your mental health allows them to understand how you work, when you need to be pushed, and when you need breathing room. A manager who understands your mental and emotional state can significantly ease performance stress. It also opens the avenue for check-ins and discussions regarding ways to keep up your productivity without worsening your mental health.

    Cons: A manager’s influence over your workload can seep into your CV, performance reviews, promotions, and raises. An unsympathetic, ignorant, or prejudiced manager may stigmatise your mental health struggles by either talking down to you, taking away opportunities from you, or outright taking away your job.

    Bottom line: Feel out your managers’ views on mental health in a neutral fashion before divulging any struggles to them.


  • A Coworker

    Pros: If you work in a team, letting colleagues know about your mental health struggles enables them to plan for situations when you might need time off. Colleagues who empathise with your situation can help cover for you and help you figure out ways to maintain or increase productivity. Your team will also know when you have poor mental health, low energy days and learn to work with you to make it a smooth experience. Supportive coworkers can also be hugely motivating through the days when you may not feel up to working at all.

    Cons: Sharing mental health struggles with colleagues opens up room for news about your mental health to spread without your consent. This could encourage unnecessary, negative perceptions about you, which are difficult to manage.

    Bottom line: Before sharing mental health struggles or illness with a colleague, make sure they are trustworthy and ask them not to discuss your struggles with anyone else.


  • Human Resources

    Pros: A human resources department must keep private any information an employee gives them. This makes HR a trustworthy option to speak to regarding mental health struggles. HR managers can also point you towards any mental health resources offered by the company, such as free counselling services or paid time off.

    Cons: Human resources professionals are not without bias; they are products of their environment and may also hold ignorant and/or prejudiced views about mental health struggles. In the wrong hands, information about your mental health could cause you to lose out on all workplace support.

    Bottom line: Researching company policies around mental health and mental illness can provide good clues as to what kind of support (or lack thereof) you can expect from HR. A company with supportive mental health policies is more likely to employ HR professionals able to handle mental health conversations discreetly and without judgement.

Is remote/hybrid work the best thing for mental health?


Though lauded for flexibility and ease, remote and hybrid work cultures are not ideal. Many workers still have mental health struggles that cannot be alleviated by a change of venue. Additionally, remote work setups can exacerbate mental health struggles due to: 


  • Isolation from other employees and the absence of workplace socialising
  • Burnout from a lack of clear boundaries between work and personal time
  • Stress from high screen time and unproductive online meetings

While the occasional remote/hybrid work option can be helpful in managing mental health, a full-time remote setup often worsens it.


Do employees with mental health struggles have any legal protection?

Yes. In the worst case scenario, if you believe that you have faced discrimination because of your mental health, you do have legal protection in India. 


The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (PWD Act) and the Mental Healthcare (2017) Act have a list of provisions that protect individuals with mental health concerns from discrimination. 

The PWD Act defines “person with disability” as a person with long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairment that can hinder their full and effective participation in society equally with others. This can be interpreted to include stress, burnout, and temporary mental health struggles.

Further, a December 2021 judgement from India’s Supreme Court specifies that people suffering from mental health disorders have a right against workplace discrimination and are entitled to reasonable accommodation. The Court also stated that disciplinary action against such people qualifies as indirect discrimination. 

Apart from this, various facets of the Indian Penal Code, ranging from defamation to intimidation, can offer protection to someone with an unsupportive or prejudiced workplace. 

In such cases, speaking with a labour lawyer to understand is a good idea. 


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