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How To Tell Your Boss About Your Depression

By on April 15, 2018 in Mood and Depression with 0 Comments

Unlike physical illness, mental illnesses like depression are not visible.  It is relatively easy to tell your boss that you need a few days off because you are down with flu, but telling them you need some time off to deal with a depressive episode can be very tricky.  Telling those close to you is already hard to do; let alone informing your employer. Do you really need to tell your boss? Or more importantly, should you?

Advantages of telling your employer

Depression can be debilitating. It takes a great deal of effort to hide your depression.  Those who have suffered through it know how hard it is to paste on a smile and pretend things are normal.  The situation is harder still in a work setting where a well-meaning boss or colleague would ask questions out of concern.

A distressed woman sits at a table

The main advantage of telling your boss is the support that your boss and your workplace can provide.   There is no legal obligation for you to disclose your illness whilst in employment.  However, if your condition is long-term and is likely to have an effect on your normal day-to-day life, it can be considered a disability. In which case, you will be covered under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK.

Your workplace will have to make reasonable adjustments; which may include:

  • Flexible working hours. You can request a change in start or finish times which can be useful if you have anxiety traveling by public transport.  You can also request a change in your lunch and break times to rest and recharge.
  • A temporary change in your work responsibilities. This can mean to lessen your workload to help with any stress. You can request this change can be permanent if you feel this will help your condition.
  • Time off to attend medical or counseling appointments; and medical leave as per statutory
  • Support when you have to take medical leave due to a depressive episode. This may include maintaining regular contact whilst you are on medical leave and arranging for a phased return-to-work.

Besides the support they are legally obligated to offer, having an official note of your condition in your files means your employer cannot discriminate against you for promotion, training opportunities or for redundancy and retirement arrangements, as part of the Equality Act.

Telling your boss may also quell any gossip about your need to take long periods of absence. It will also put into perspective any drop in your work performance.  If your workplace has a yearly appraisal process, an understanding boss will have to take your illness into consideration when appraising your performance.

Disadvantages of telling your employer

Awareness around depression as an illness had increased in the recent years and as a result,   there is not much of a social stigma.  Whilst this is true, there are still misunderstanding on how best to support mental illness. Some workplaces are more forward-looking than others and it is important to gauge how it is like where you work.

The adjustments they will have to make are also termed ‘reasonable adjustments’.  Companies still have to take in consideration their business needs.  While larger companies may be able to bend over backward, smaller companies may struggle to offer you the same level of support.

There is also the issue of gossip in the workplace.  Whilst you can quell gossip by being straightforward about your depression, you have to be sure that your colleagues can be understanding and supportive of your condition, especially if a part of your work responsibilities needs to be parceled out to the rest of the team.

So should you do it?

It is a tough call.  Whether you should or shouldn’t tell your boss depends very much on how you think your employer and colleague would react.

Perhaps the best way to decide is to think what is the purpose of disclosing your illness to your boss.  If you need adjustment to your working conditions to deal with depression, it is a good idea to tell your boss about it.  For example, you are taking the new medication and need some time to adjust to it, or you need time off to deal with a tough episode. They are legally obliged to support you.

In the instance depression is really affecting your day to day performance, telling your boss is probably a very good idea.  This will head off any discussion or grievances about job performance which may add unnecessary stress on you.

How should you do it?

 If you decide to tell your boss about your depression, here are the steps to do it:

  • Before the meeting, it is helpful if you get a doctor’s note or one from the professional you are working with about your depression.  It is also helpful if you could think about the reasonable adjustments you need in order to do your job well.
  • Request for a private one-to-one meeting with your boss. During the meeting, you can decide how much you want to disclose. You can say, backed by your doctor’s note, that you have a medical condition that needs support and reasonable adjustments without mentioning depression.
  • Discuss the adjustments you needed. Your boss may have to run this pass the HR department for advice before agreeing to any of it.  It could be that the changes can come in stages so both you and your boss can find a happy medium between supporting you and meeting the business needs.
  • Your medical information is confidential. HR will have to know if changes are made to your terms of employment.  Your colleagues need not know.
  • Have a follow-up meeting to discuss how the adjustments are working. Your boss will need to know whether the support he or she is providing is at the right level and this will be constructive feedback for the company.
  • It is good practice to have any meetings and adjustments agreed in writing, even if it is just an email.

In conclusion, whether you disclose your depression to your boss is a personal choice.  People with depression can have long, fulfilling careers with the right support.  It is also important to know your legal rights and it is recommended you check out these contacts for legal advice available on the Mind UK website.

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About the Author

About the Author: Tom Andrews BSc is the editor of He devotes his time to psychology and mental health research and also enjoys climbing, hiking, and team sports. Tom is a contributor to several other highly regarded health magazines and blogs.


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