Ask An Expert·3 min read

Is it OK to share mental health issues with coworkers in casual conversation?

Dear Expert,

Is it OK to share mental health issues with coworkers in casual conversation?

I wish we could say everyone in society is comfortable with mental health, but we still have a ways to go. So before disclosing anything in a work setting, it’s important to ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is there a colleague or colleagues you feel comfortable opening up to? Think about whether you have a strong, trusting relationship, or if you’ve previously discussed personal information. 

  • Why do you want to share, and what do you hope to get out of the conversation? Perhaps it's more support, or you just want your colleague to be aware of what you’re going through. Regardless, it’s helpful to be clear about your desired outcome. 

Depending on your work environment, the reasons to share often outweigh the reasons not to. Struggling with a mental health problem can be isolating. Sharing your experience can make you — and others — feel less alone. If you share what you’re going through with a close coworker or coworkers, and it’s a positive experience, you’ll likely get more support from those peers. They may check on you more often because they know what you're going through. And your relationships with them will likely become more trusting and caring. It is such a good feeling to know people have your back, especially when you're struggling. That can go a long way for your mental health and your ability to perform at work.  

But there’s also a possibility that you don’t get the response you want, which can be very upsetting. The information you disclose can be used against you in a way you didn't intend. The person could start treating you differently, maybe by avoiding you or passing you over on assignments [even if, technically, it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of a mental health condition]. That's why it's important to be thoughtful about who you trust with your personal information. Until mental health is as normal and natural as taking a lunch break, be mindful about what you’re hoping for and who you share your experiences with.

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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