NEW YORK (PIX11) — The days are longer, the weather is colder, and for many — feelings of sadness have kicked in.  

Often referred to as the ‘winter blue,’ these feelings may make it hard for some people to keep up relationships with friends and family. For others, it leads to difficulties staying happy at work. 

PIX11 spoke with Human Resources expert Barbie Winterbottom about how employers and employees can handle mental health in the workplace. Watch the full interview HERE

Q: For someone who is having a hard time mentally (whether it be stress, anxiety or depression), how should they go about opening up about their feelings to their boss?

Barbie: If you’re an employee looking to approach your boss, I recommend getting very clear on what you’re looking for once you open up.

  • If you’re struggling and need support, ask yourself — what kind of support do you need?
  •  If your work performance is suffering, are you asking for additional time, relaxed metrics expectations, or additional team members to contribute to your project?

Having a clear idea of what you want will help your boss understand what they’ll be able to do for you. It’s also important to take a moment to be honest with yourself about the relationship you have with your boss. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I trust them?
  • Have I had other personal conversations with them in the past about prior concerns and  felt supported?

If you can confidently answer yes, then open up the conversation with something like, “Thank you for taking time to meet with me. This is a tough conversation for me to have and I am trusting you to keep this conversation confidential, as it’s very personal. I’m really struggling with my mental health. I am not feeling myself, I’m concerned I may be suffering from SAD/Stress/Anxiety.”

If you don’t feel comfortable going to your boss directly, I recommend having this conversation with your HR Representative and asking them to assist in having this conversation with your manager.

Q: How should employers respond when their employees are approaching them about their mental health?

Barbie: If you’re in a leadership role and a team member shares with you that they’re struggling mentally, here are a few things you can do:

  • Try to be empathetic and compassionate. Understand that they’re taking a risk in coming forward and sharing this level of personal information with you.
  • Don’t pass any judgment. It isn’t your job to assess the legitimacy of their feelings or mental health.
  • Ask them what kind of support they’re looking for — from both you and the company. If they’re unsure about what they need, bring in your HR partner to discuss reasonable accommodations. FMLA, EAP and all the options that might be available to your employee.
  • Encourage them to reach out to HR for guidance for any mental health benefits. If they aren’t comfortable with that then you can offer to go with them or reach out yourself and see what information you can find to share with them.
  • Lastly, check in with your employee frequently — but not in a way that will bring attention to them.