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.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Want to encourage more female leaders? Openly highlight their achievements

A study shows that publicly praising women not only increases their willingness to lead, their...

Message to Davos: Don't blame lack of trust on 'society'

The reason people don't trust you is probably much closer to home, says public relations...

Dame Cilla Snowball: Life after being CEO

One year on from stepping back as boss of Britain's largest advertising agency, Dame Cilla...

How to change people's minds when they refuse to listen

Research into climate change deniers shows how behavioural science can break down intransigence.

"Paying women equally would cripple our economy"

The brutal fact: underpaid women sustain British business, says HR chief Helen Jamieson.

Why you're terrible at recruitment (and can AI help?)

The short version is you're full of biases and your hiring processes are badly designed....