Bringing up mental health to your boss

TL;DR: How do I tactfully approach the question “Do you care about me enough to help with devpression, or should I shut up, get to work, and move on?”

I’m sure there’s already a post relating to this somewhere, but I don’t immediately see one in my searches. I’ve been wondering what to do about approaching the general issue of mental health to my boss. I already have, but I did it poorly (as referenced in my other post) and it went nowhere. So, in more general terms, how do I ask if this is a company in which I can stay and get well, or if I should move on? The attitude around here is one of caring, as if I can just present my problem and get help, but I’m afraid to bring up how negative my attitude has been. Negative attitudes aren’t tolerated around here.

So, I’m not sure what the solution is, otherwise I could just ask specifically for that. E.g. time off, partial remote work (wouldn’t help me anyway), slight schedule change, etc… I’m still very much trying to keep myself together while figuring things out, and I don’t know if making those around me aware of the extent of my issues will help at all. I recognize in a “more traditional” work environment, I should see the HR department (which we don’t have) or just fill out some sort of form, but we are very informal. So I have to talk to the CEO about it, who I directly report to.

I’m done making a short story long. Got any advice?

Hopefully others will chime in. My personal advice would be that I don’t think a depressed person is a good fit for a startup unless your CEO happens to be extremely caring and has direct experience himself. I say this as a depressed developer who has previously worked at a startup. Things did not work out well. I even remember him saying to the troops “put yourself third” i.e the most important people were the investors, then the customers and then the employees.

The unfortunate reality in my case was that they just could not afford or tolerate someone with my issues. And the high pressure environment was not a healthy place for me to be.

Perhaps there is a middle ground where you could reduce your working hours and get some help with your mental health which is ultimately the most important thing. As far as how to bring it up, if you are sure thats what you want to do then you’ll just have to bite the bullet, ask for a chat and explain that you have been diagnosed with x and that this will mean that you need to focus on getting better for a while. Either you will luck out and they value your contribution enough to help you get through it or they just don’t have the resources to cope. If its the latter, it will be hard to take it objectively (at least it was for me) but I did learn that startups were not the right environment for me.

Hope that is not too negative. As for telling coworkers, you’ll be the best judge of whether they are likely to be receptive / sympathetic. I’ve had people surprise me by saying ‘oh me too’ but also encountered others who just don’t get it and are never going to.

I wish you the best of luck! You are not alone.


Thanks for the reply! Good perspective. I’m not working in a startup, and am one of very few people here who have a high-pressure position, due to my increasing workload and being a single-person department. The same things that make it high-pressure also contribute to a lack of options for dealing with it. I think I will bring it up despite the potential pitfalls.

Depression is no different than any other chronic health problem that might interfere with your work and life. And probably a majority of people in the world have some chronic health problem they have to deal with. Ours just happens to be depression. I am very open about my depression but do not act like it is anything more special or debilitating than anything else. In fact, the skills that I’ve have had to develop to monitor and deal with my depression make me a better coworker and manager.

As for the high-pressure environment, I deal with it by reframing it in a couple of different ways. One, is this pressure real or manufactured? Sometimes a “high-pressure environment” just means emotionally charged, and 99% of the time those emotions are unhelpful in terms of actually moving the business forward. (They are really only helpful in letting the emotional person process their own fears, insecurities, etc.) Two, if the pressure is a legitimate business need, I find the short-term focus and challenge actually helps me IRT my depression (as long as it remains short-term).

It sounds like your high-pressure situation is due to a lack of situational intelligence on the part of those in charge. I would keep an eye on the expectations placed on you and be rational about whether they are reasonable or not. Your depression doesn’t make a difference in terms of how being over-worked can effect productivity. No one does well under impossible circumstances.

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You haven’t mentioned any diagnosis or whether or not you’ve seek help from a professional.

I think it’s very important to talk to a therapist first and get a clear picture of the situation. Then, you’ll be able to say to your boss “I’ve been diagnosed with X and this is affecting my work for reasons Y”. I think it’s easier to discuss these issues when the problem is clearly identified and you can bring solutions to the table.

I’m also a single-person department and I have similar issues about stress and workload. I work at a startup and it’s very clear to me … like deepthought said… that I have to put myself third.

Now I want to put my health as the #1 priority in my life and there’s really only one person that can make that decision.

Great thoughts. I agree 100%, and I believe that as a result of battling these things, I have gained valuable skills as well. In my opinion, confusion and conflict produce the best learning opportunities. Your last paragraph is right on the money. These expectations are unreasonable, and nobody could do them. But still, they frustrate me and bring me to a very low place. I can deal with short-term burnout when there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but getting more and more work piled on my task list with no plan to resolve the issue is wearing me down.

Thanks for the input!

There is no diagnosis, and I admitted to myself a few months ago that I should see a professional. However, I don’t have the time (yes, I hate that phrase too) or money, and I don’t want to let my wife know this is weighing me down so heavily. I realize that this is an additional problem…

Good points, though. I have some solutions in mind, and have been trying to get a meeting with my boss for a month or two now to discuss them.