Storytelling is at the heart of what we do in the performing arts.
We know the power of story, and its capacity to inspire and challenges others. If you are considering sharing your mental health journey with your peers, have a read through this guide developed by Heads Up. The resource, Deciding to tell others may also be useful.
One of the most powerful things you can do is talk openly about a personal experience of a mental health condition. You might be surprised by how many of your workmates have also experienced a mental health condition at some point in their life, or supported a loved one with a similar experience.
Courage is contagious, and talking about mental health conditions helps to change negative attitudes and stereotypes.
Benefits of sharing your story
Sharing your story can:
- show that people can continue to work and manage mental health conditions.
- encourage others to speak openly about their experience with a mental health condition.
- help others experiencing a mental health condition to take action.
- encourage your employer to make workplace mental health a priority.
How to talk about it
There’s no right or wrong time to tell others at work. Some people choose to discuss their anxiety or depression at the recruitment stage, while others might decide to tell their employer if stress becomes an issue, or following a diagnosis.
Planning out what you’re going to say with a trusted person – a friend, family member, support worker, or health professional – can help you structure your ideas and the points you want to cover. You can also practice how the conversation might flow.
Think about who at work you will tell, how much detail you provide, where and when you will have the chat, a time you feel most relaxed and a place you’re comfortable in.
We’ve developed a conversations planner (PDF) to help you think about what you’re going to say. There’s space for you to type or write notes as you go.
Timing and setting
If you’re thinking about talking to your manager or workmates, the timing and setting can play a big part in how comfortable you feel.
Some things to consider might include:
- Formal or relaxed – some people prefer to set a time and meet in a private room, while others feel more relaxed in a café or staff area.
- Morning or afternoon – are you more alert after your morning coffee? Is your manager usually free just after lunch?
- Short chat or longer discussion – what level of detail about your condition are you comfortable talking about? How much time will you need for the conversation
What to say
The level of detail you share with your employer and whether you talk about your specific diagnosis is up to you. Your discussion only has to cover the information your employer needs to help you. You might find it useful to think about:
- What are your reasons for talking about your condition?
- Are there any particular things your manager can do to support you, such as offering you flexible working conditions or an adjusted workload?
- Are there problems at work that are contributing to your mental health condition, like stress, bullying or harassment?
- Explain how your condition is affecting your ability to do your job – and if it isn’t having any impact, be clear on this to avoid incorrect assumptions.
- Where can your manager get more information?
- Focus on the positive – your skills and strengths in your role.
Together with your manager, decide on the best way to talk about any issues going forward. They are legally obligated to keep your discussions confidential, so be clear on what, if anything, you’d like to be communicated to your workmates.
Finally, keep a written record of these discussions, noting down what you’ve agreed with you manager and when.
Having trouble figuring out what to say? This conversation planner can help (PDF).
Telling your workmates
It’s also a good idea to discuss with your manager, what, if anything, you would like other team members to know about your experience. It’s your decision who finds out and how, but keep in mind that they may be curious about adjustments being made for you. It’s also worth asking if your organisation has a policy regarding employee privacy.
If you decide to tell your workmates, or give permission for your manager to inform the team or individual people, have a think about:
- How much detail are you comfortable revealing?
- Do you want to share your specific diagnosis, or more general information?
- If you’d prefer your manager told other workmates, what should they say?
- How will you answer potentially insensitive questions from workmates who don’t understand what you are experiencing?
- How will you describe what’s been happening?
Things to consider when sharing your story
- Who will you tell – your supervisor, senior manager or workmate/s?
- What level of privacy do you wish to maintain?
- What are your reasons for talking about your condition?
- What sort of reaction are you expecting?
- What will you do if the reaction is different to what you are expecting?
- Be clear about how long you will speak for and how much information you feel comfortable sharing.
- Tell your story in your own words and speak from the heart.
- Try not to use medical jargon or acronyms – use language that your workmates will understand.
- With your manager, decide on an appropriate time to talk to your workmates. This might be a staff meeting, lunchtime seminar or social club event.
- Be prepared for questions when you finish speaking, but also be prepared for no questions. People sometimes take time to process and reflect. It is by no means a reflection on how well you told your story.
- Workmates may approach you in the following days and weeks with questions. Prepare yourself to be open and comfortable with this process.
- Remember, it’s not your responsibility to provide counselling to workmates, but it is helpful to encourage them to seek support.
Personal stories from the workplace
Watch people from a range of backgrounds talk about their experiences of mental health conditions in the workplace, and share their stories of recovery, support and resilience.