What's your problem?

How should I tell my boss that I'm struggling?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 04 Jan 2011

I suffer from recurring depression and anxiety attacks. My condition has never affected my work - until now. I'm going through a particularly bad bout at the moment and the quality of my work is suffering. My manager doesn't seem to have noticed - or at least she hasn't said as much - but I feel I should say something. I don't want to be singled out as someone who has 'mental health problems', in case it leads to me being overlooked for promotion in the future. How much should I tell her?

A: Sadly, our attitudes to conditions of the mind are still starkly different from our attitudes to conditions of the body. There's an almost superstitious taboo about any problem that could be seen as 'mental' - so I quite understand your hesitancy. But just imagine for a moment that you were suffering not from depression and anxiety attacks but from the after-effects of some physical complaint. They, too, could affect your work from time to time - but you'd feel entirely happy mentioning it to your manager.

Keeping your problem to yourself is already causing you additional anxiety - the last thing you need. Talking about it with your manager - quite openly but with no great sense of drama - would in itself relieve some of the pressure you feel. And the very fact that you're able to describe your symptoms in an almost matter-of-fact way immediately dispels any sense that you're somehow mentally unstable; whereas the eventual discovery that you'd been concealing them might, of course, have exactly the opposite effect.

So my strong advice is to tell your manager right away. Keep it brief and business-like. Tell her about the treatment you're undergoing (I very much hope you are) and that you'll keep her up to date with any changes. Mention that you'd rather she kept this information to herself; you're not looking for sympathy. It may be difficult for you - but the alternative has almost nothing to commend it.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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