not over-sharing as a manager while trying to de-stigmatize mental health

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have a direct report for the first time in my career. We are both young-isn, though they are a bit younger than I am. I am a naturally open, chatty person with a tendency to overshare in general, so your advice about distinguishing between being “friendly” and being “friends” with a direct report is something I’ve tried to take to heart.

My question is about finding that boundary while also wanting, in the long-term, to use my power and privilege to help fight the idea that there is a certain type of person who fits in in a professional workplace or is cut out for leadership roles, etc. I’m queer, I’m gender questioning, I go to therapy, I have ADHD, I take meds for both that and mental health stuff, etc. etc. It’s important to me to be open about those things and to model a “this is normal and okay” kind of attitude, specifically in the workplace. In my 20s I always felt suffocated by the idea that these things somehow detracted from my professionalism — which obviously is not true, but still.

At the same time, especially with the neurodiversity and mental health stuff, it’s sort of private in a way that makes those trust/intimacy lines harder to find. I’m having trouble telling the difference between oversharing (as I would with a friend), and just regular sharing (being friendly with my direct report) when it comes to these subjects. Do you have any advice?

Readers, what’s your take? Please weigh in via the comments.

And I know the headline doesn’t capture the full range of this question! I couldn’t find the right catch-all without writing a really long headline.

{ 422 comments… read them below }

  1. Lemon Zinger*

    As an employee, I don’t want to hear about my manager’s physical or mental health struggles unless they are directly impacting MY work. And then I want the bare minimum details, for example: “I’ll be on maternity leave from X month to Y month” or “I’ll be out for a couple of weeks after the procedure.”

    When a manager overshares about their physical or mental health problems, employees feel pressure to do so as well, and that’s not okay.

    1. drtheliz*

      I don’t think I agree with this. I *don’t* want to hear details, but “I’ve struggled with my mental health, so really, don’t worry if you need to take self-care days” is really… comforting, I guess I’d say. The tricky part is finding the time to bring it up. With several reports, I’d bring it up casually at a group meeting. With one, maybe when I approved a vacation request? As an aside – “Report, your vacation is all okay and just FYI, in case you need it…”

      1. Annony*

        For me, it comes down to tense. My manager telling me they struggled with mental health before might feel supportive if done right but telling me they struggle with it now would make me really uncomfortable. I wouldn’t know what to do with that information or if they were asking me to not come to them with problems. Same with physical health. Mentioning a problem from the past feels very different than mentioning something happening now without a clear link to what I am expected to do with that information (such as finding out they have a problem that interferes with doing a task so I need to take over that task).

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          You articulated this much better than I did below. If someone tells me they have a problem, my default setting is to jump into action and try to help them fix it (I get this from my mother). So I would be totally confused as to what my manager was expecting me to do by telling me any of this, especially since you can’t really get that involved in your manager’s personal life.

          1. Sylvia*

            Good point. I’m very much an active, “okay, how can we fix this?” type person. But…I couldn’t do that for a manager.

            1. Double A*

              Also if someone mentions in passing they have ADHD or whatever… like, why would you think you need to fix that anymore than if they mentioned they were undergoing cancer treatment or had bunions that made it hard for them to stand for a long time?

              This is sharing something about your identity and experiences, not your problems. It’s really weird to me that a lot of people are assuming “talking about mental health” means “dumping problems on another person.” I hadn’t realized that was such a big part of the stigma around mental health!

              1. kt*

                An employee/report might wonder if the manager is mentioning ADHD because manager wants employee to change how they’re working in order to deal with it. Employee might think, oh, does that mean I need to ‘manage up’ in a different way?

                If you can be really clear that you’re just mentioning a fact that does not require action on the part of the employee, that helps. Many of these clues come from context. Let’s bring up a very different example: in Selling Sunset, the overly-friendly parade of red flags that is a Netflix show about a real estate group, Mary brings up in conversation that her wedding venue has fallen through. In most offices, this is simply a topic for commiseration — what can a colleague do about that? In Selling Sunset ’cause it’s real estate, the idea is brought up that Mary can use one of her clients’ properties — and she does, in the end, and sells it on her wedding day :) The context of the discussion mattered.

                When you mention a ‘problem’ to a colleague, often they consciously or unconsciously run through ways they could ‘help’. Most people view the mention of ADHD as the mention of a ‘problem’ because you can change your actions in response to it and possibly have an effect.

                So to me, “I have ADHD and I want you all to know I’m struggling with depression related to (issue)” doesn’t have enough context around it to know if it falls into the ‘I need help please do things’ bucket or ‘I’m making a non-actionable statement about my hair color’ bucket, because it’s so conceivable that I could change my actions at work to deal with the ADHD or depression. I know I can’t change my action at work and impact your hair color. I don’t think it’s as bad as ‘dumping problems’ but it creates a frisson of, how should I be reacting?

                1. anone*

                  Yeah, this is why it’s part of the stigma. Because people hear “ADHD” or “depression” (or god forbid something more stigmatized) and assume… they need to change. Or do something. Or something must be done. This whole comment section is resplendent in these assumptions, much worse than I expected and I thought my expectations were low.

                  The truth is that these conditions/experiences are incredibly widespread and people are functioning just fine around you all the time without you needing to “manage up”. I guarantee you that you’ve had managers with significant mental health challenges at one time or another and you didn’t need to do anything differently, they were figuring it out. That they didn’t tell you about it didn’t make it less of a reality.

                  As someone who also struggles with a lot of mental health challenges, I’d be so grateful to have a boss who is as open about theirs as I try to be about mine (because being silent about it has made it worse). And I wouldn’t assume it meant I had to do anything differently unless they asked. But this and all the stigma is a huge part of why I’m an independent consultant and don’t work in organizations.

                2. Annony*

                  I think it is important to keep the power dynamics in mind. While it is important to talk about mental health more to destigmatize it, talking about it on a personal level may not be appropriate with someone who works for you. Talking about it more generally is probably the way to go in that instance. However, talking about it on a personal level could be good to do with peers. A peer is more likely to feel comfortable pushing back if this is not a topic they are comfortable with or if it is hitting a bit too close to home.

                3. Anon for this*

                  My manager recently told all of her direct reports in a staff meeting that she was recently diagnosed with ADHD, just to be like “here’s something about me, I realized that my brain doesn’t necessarily work the same as other people, so if there’s ever something that’s not working for you or anything I can do to support the way YOUR brain works best, let me know.” It was very clearly NOT a request for any action, just an FYI. I thought it was a helpful heads-up and I appreciated the acknowledgement that we all work differently and we can make changes to accommodate that if need be.

                4. JB (not in Houston)*

                  @anone I agree with you. If you manager mentions she doesn’t like the paint color she picked out for her living room, do you automatically start to wonder if it’s your job to fix it? If you do and it’s not something that would normally be considered part of your job, isn’t the problem more with you than with her comment? I am uncomfortable with the way commenters are treating ADHD or other mental health issues as a “problem” that might need fixing by them. If your manager mentions in passing that she has depression or ADHD, if you are worried about whether you are being asked to change your work style to accommodate them, just ask. Or ignore it until you’re asked. Or ignore the diagnosis for your work purposes and do whatever you’d have done when you see behavior but don’t know the cause–if your boss struggles with deadlines, for example, and it affects your work, what would you do if you didn’t know the boss had ADHD? Saying that your boss disclosing a mental health issue or that she is neurotypical means you now have to worry about fixing something, even in the absence of signs that your boss would expect that from you, makes those conditions “special” issues that prompt you to treat your boss differently than you would treat someone who behaved the same but did not have that diagnosis. It’s stigmatizing.

                  That’s all assuming, of course, that we are just talking about normal conversation where it comes up and not a boss who is the hold my hand, pay attention to me type, in which case you do have a problem that requires you to do something, but the problem isn’t the diagnosis.

              2. Traffic_Spiral*

                I think ADHD would be fine, so long as it’s just explaining behavior could otherwise be interpreted as hostile to a nervous report. She quickly changed the subject on something I asked about? Maybe she doesn’t want to discuss it – I’d better not bring it up again. She’s staring out the window or doodling when we talk? Maybe she’s impatient with me and hinting that I need to wrap this up and get out.

                I think that things like depression, anxiety, or PTSD might feel like oversharing and uncomfortable, but if someone is non-neurotypical in a way that changes how they send social cues I’d prefer the heads-up so I know how to interpret their reactions.

                1. MayLou*

                  But depression, PTSD and anxiety are also ways that brains function and can impact on behaviour. We don’t really know what causes any of them, so it feels odd (as someone with anxiety, depression and ?ADHD) to me to separate them this way. Brains are complex, things affect them, that has consequences for behaviour, we should talk about it without blame or prejudice.

                2. Traffic_Spiral*

                  Yes, but the implications are vastly different. Something simple like “I doodle but don’t worry, I am listening to you,” is a simple and direct FYI. If whatever else you have can be handled with a simple “ok, so I occasionally do this mild thing, don’t worry about it,” then it’s fine.

                  When you get into more in-depth discussions, that gets into complicated territory that you should keep to your social circles.

            2. I'm just here for the cats!*

              But if someone said to you about have me talk health issues would you automatically jump to “fix it”. Because that is something that you can’t fix. It’s on the other person.

        2. blue*

          So – this is great! – and kind of the reason for the de-stigmatizing of mental health needs. If someone can be open about their struggles just like they would if say, they had a knee injury or something – we don’t need to make such a big deal out of it.

          And a good manager will be really clear if what they’re saying requires action on your part.

          1. designbot*

            This helps clarify something I noticed in the comments above… people are referring to “mental health struggles” or “problems,” but, what if she doesn’t consider not being neurotypical a problem that needs solving at all? It’s actually really telling that everyone has just assumed this is a problem, when… it doesn’t have to be! As someone who also has ADHD, I recently disclosed to one of my bosses and HR, and I mentioned that I’m not viewing this as a disability at all, but as just an insight into how my brain works on a chemical level and a great opportunity to craft workflows that work with my brain instead of against it. That’s all neurodiversity in the workplace needs to be, if I’m reading the OP’s intentions and situation correctly! Even outside of diagnosable conditions, we are all neurodiverse. We all think a little differently and process a little differently and acknowledging those things isn’t asking someone to solve some problem for you.

        3. JSPA*

          I’d address it only in the abstract, and with an indefinite time frame, and focus on the workplace, not anything personal to either of you. There is ZERO reason to give personal examples, compared to the significant risk of TMI.

          “This workplace in general and I in specific strongly believe in attracting, engaging and retaining a varied and diverse group of employees. We recognize that anyone may sometimes need X, so providing X is a priority. You’ll be expected to accommodate others up and down the chain of command, just as we’d expect to accommodate you when and as needed. Complaining about others taking time or needing support is a bad look; taking time yourself, if needed, or putting in a request for more support, is fine.”

      2. MissGirl*

        But you can support someone’s mental health without disclosing your own. That implies if a manager hasn’t had mental health issues they won’t be understanding. Just be clear with your reports how you support them and in what ways you do.

    2. ElizabethJane*

      I think a lot of this is coming down to what you (general) consider oversharing. The other day a coworker said “I recently started taking Zoloft for my anxiety and it’s great to get treatment but I’ve been soo sleepy. I really miss the free office coffee”

      It made sense in the context of our conversation, her condition has 0 impact on my work, but I don’t consider it over sharing any more than I would consider “My dog was pacing last night because of the storms and I’m so sleepy. I’m going to need at least a pot of coffee today” over sharing.

      1. Mommy Shark*

        I’m glad to hear that you don’t consider that oversharing. I have postpartum anxiety and have started Zoloft and turns out I just had regular ol anxiety so my entire personality has changed because I’m so much healthier mentally. So it comes up in conversation and I’ll just say something like, “yeah I take Zoloft now and I feel much better.”

        1. Karia*

          Absolutely! But there’s such a huge difference between a peer commenting “Zoloft is amazing,” vs a manager (that you don’t have the standing to shut down, who can punish you for drawing boundaries), go “let me go into detail about my relationship issues with my parents and how that continues to affect my mental health.”

      2. alexis*

        Yeah coworkers have mentioned it to me in that type of context and honestly it’s been eye opening and nice to see how many people are actually taking anxiety meds, it’s not just you. One time a coworker asked me to do something slightly differently because it would help her ADHD – I was happy to do it and it was also an insight into how many people have ADHD. I especially know of quite a few woman coworkers who were only diagnosed with ADHD as adults

        1. ElizabethJane*

          Yeah my response was “I’ve been on Zoloft for years and it is great but that transition week was rough. I think I lived at Starbucks” and then we both went about our days.

          I don’t think that we need to make Formal Announcements ™ but I do think it’s totally fine to bring it up in conversation.

          1. MayLou*

            It’s kind of like how queer people very subtly come out to each other in ways that straight people might not even notice.

      3. StellzBellz*

        This is a great example of how I handle talking about my issues with coworkers (both peers, managers, and direct reports). Sometimes it’s just a quick “and this is why I am glad I take medication for my anxiety” joke after ranting about a stressful client, and sometimes it’s just a comment on why I’m having a hard time staying awake or focusing in a meeting due to my narcolepsy.

        I never make a point to talk about it with anyone, but if it is relevant to the moment/conversation, I don’t shy away from it either. That’s how I handle all personal topics at work, honestly.

    3. Horse Girl*

      I agree. If my manager were to tell me they’re queer, gender questioning, in therapy, etc I’d feel overwhelmed by all that information. I don’t honestly want to know too much about my mangers’ personal lives.

      1. ElizabethJane*

        Do you consider it knowing too much if you know your female manager is planning a wedding with her male fiance? That your manager has 3 kids?

        For many people being queer is as much of their identity as having a daughter is a part of mine. The point of destigmatizing is making sure that these topics which should be a non-issue are actually a non-issue.

        1. LH Holdings*

          That is a very false equivalency. I can know that my manger has 3 kids without by looking at the pictures on her desk, or see that she is getting engaged by the ring on her finger (regardless of the gender of the person she is marrying). Being queer can be show without a conversation by having a picture of their significant other. Additionally, knowing if a manager is questioning their identity is so out of bounds. I don’t need to know the process you go through, just the end result of how you want to be referred to as.

          1. ElizabethJane*

            But for many being gender questioning is an extended state. A friend of mine is gender fluid. Most of the time they default to “they/them”. Sometimes they prefer “he/him”. Rarely do they prefer “she/her”. For this person “they” is always an acceptable pronouns there are just days when they feel more masculine. Those of us that have been very close with this person for years can usually get a read on the situation and I am about 99% accurate in picking up on the days when they would like to be “he/him”.

            We work together. Most of the time I say “You should talk to J about that. They are the expert” but if it’s a masculine day I might say “You should talk to J about that. He is the expert.” because J and I have been friends for 2 decades and it’s just natural for me.

            I’m not saying J needs to call an all company meeting to announce that they are gender fluid and good luck guessing which pronouns work on which day, but it’s not over sharing for someone to say “Hey, I noticed ElizabethJane sometimes calls you they and sometimes calls you he” and for J to respond with “Oh I’m gender fluid but ElizabethJane has known me for years and is good at reading me. Don’t feel like you have to do that though. ‘They’ is always acceptable”.

          2. AnonInTheCity*

            I mean, this is not only an erasure of bi, trans, and asexual folks but of just plain old single people as well? Queerness is not dependent upon the gender or existence of your significant other. You would certainly not know that I am a queer cis woman if you saw a picture of my burly bearded cis male husband, but it doesn’t mean that I cease to exist as a queer person or that I should not be allowed to speak of it.

        2. NovaGirl*

          There’s a difference, though! Do you walk into a room with a new employee and say, “Hi, my name is ElizabethJane and I have a daughter and my husband’s name is Brad and we live in the suburbs in brick colonial and also I am in early menopause so I take hormones!” I am guessing not, those things MIGHT just come up in conversation when people are chitchatting about their lives or their weekends or whatever. That kind of Big Disclosure is overwhelming when you’re on the other side of it and shows poor boundaries, whether you’re talking about your cishet marriage or your ADHD and gender identity. In both cases it kind of seems like the person doing the disclosing will seem immature and put someone else in an uncomfortable position because what on earth do you say to that?!

          People mostly just want managers who will support them, treat them well, set them up for success, and have their back with the higher ups. Show people who you are, don’t tell them.

          1. ElizabethJane*

            See my response above.

            I think the big disconnect here is how people are sharing this information. Horse girl literally said “If my manager told me they were gender questioning” which I took at face value to mean if in any conversation the manager mentioned they were gender questioning it would be inappropriate.

            In no situation have I suggested a manager call an all company meeting to announce their sexuality, religion, marital status, etc. I just don’t agree that if this information came up organically in conversation that it would be inappropriate or oversharing.

            I also don’t get the impression that the OP is asking for how to make big sweeping proclamations. More of “is it OK to mention this in casual conversation as a way to signal that it won’t be a problem in the workplace”.

            1. NovaGirl*

              But I think the fact that they are struggling to figure out where the “trust/intimacy lines” are says a lot. This is a boundary issue. If it doesn’t seem or feel natural to disclosing something related to their list of identities to a direct report in the course of a conversation, then it’s probably not appropriate to do so right then. Like saying, “Hey I have a therapy appointment at 1pm so I’ll be out of pocket” or something along those lines rather than “Hey I have ADHD and mental health issues and take meds and see a therapist.”

              I also think it’s important that OP understand that the way to fight stigma as a manager is in dealing with direct reports, like working with a direct report to accommodate their specific working or learning style, or being accommodating and kind if they’re having a personal or mental health issue, reminding them that mental health days are okay to take, and so on, rather than making it about themselves. There IS something unprofessional and, well, kind of teenage about that approach.

              1. Lily Rowan*

                I think it would be great to say you have a standing appointment for therapy (vs keeping it vague or vaguely medical), but definitely agree that getting into a lot of detail would be TMI as a manager.

                Similarly, I would just say I have a follow-up appointment to my physical, not that I need to go to the GYN to see if I have HPV.

              2. eliz*

                As a queer person with mental illness, i think part of why i struggle to think about trust/intimacy lines in relation to talking about those things is NOT because it’s actually an intimacy concern, but because stigma has TAUGHT me that it is. As a queer person working in schools, now in my 40s, i only started talking about being queer at work with more than my closest coworkers 5ish years ago. Whereas my straight coworkers have been talking about straight at work forever. For me, a lot of that was because of messaging i received since childhood about queerness being personal (and, connected, shameful)–even as a very out queer person for 25 years at this point, it’s a lot to unlearn. And it is values-wise important to me to be clear about being a queer person, working in schools, in a position of authority, because i need other people to know that is possible.

                And in terms of mental health, it’s similar. I work in special education yet didn’t feel like i could talk about my own mental health and mental illness. There are, i think, ways of doing this that are appropriate and inappropriate. I think that talking about it in a way that makes space for someone to feel responsible for me–especially people i supervise–is obviously a boundary violation. I would never say to someone in a professional context, “I’ve just felt so anxious lately that i haven’t slept for days and am barely hanging on.” I would say, though, “We are talking in this training as if all the students we work with have mental illness and none of the staff do, and that us/them dynamic leaves out people who work in the field who also have mental health needs. As someone who feels like my own anxiety disorder helps me work better with our students because of it giving me opportunities for empathy and insight, i just want to name that as staff, we are coming from all sorts of places.” But still, stigma makes me question whether that is a boundary issue–it isn’t!–and whether it is unprofessional–it also isn’t!

                1. Jean Pargetter Hardcastle*

                  This is the core of the issue here: being cishet is largely perceived as just…being, while being queer is largely perceived as “personal life.” When someone asks me what my husband does for work, they are just being conversational. When I reveal that I (cisfemale) have a wife, now I am “bringing my personal life to work.” (Obviously #notallstraightpeople, but this is a staggeringly common dichotomy and is reflected over and over in these comments.) And the same is true of mental vs physical health. If I’m going to physical therapy, cool; if I’m going to CBT, I need to keep my personal life out of work.

                  OP, I am with you in this struggle. My tack is largely to mentally convert something I might say into the “socially acceptable” version to see if it would fly then. If people ask what I’m doing this weekend, and the answer is I’m going to Pride with my wife, I think “would a straight person tell me they were going to [SFW, non-religious, non-political event] with their husband?” They probably would, so saying “oh, Mrs. Hardcastle and I are going to Pride” is not unprofessional — and the more you say it, the more you cement in your workplace that it’s not unprofessional. And you empower others to do the same. Cishet people have had the privilege to do this all along. Regarding mental health, I’m quite private about my health generally, but I make it a point any time use of sick leave comes up to say “mental health needs the same care as physical health.” I also say that if someone asks a question like “does sick leave cover mental health days” or “can I take off tomorrow to go to counseling” or “that interaction [public-facing job with sometimes really horrible encounters, such as threats] was extremely traumatic for me; can I take the rest of the day off?”

                  TL;DR: your identity is no more “personal life” than a cishet person’s identity, and mental health is no more “personal life” than physical health. Our (horrible) work culture in America has taught us something different, and good on you for trying to use your power to flip the script.

                2. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

                  I used to teach high school science. We had 1-2 kids need inpatient hospitalization for acute mental illness a year. I realized that there was a ton of stigma around that topic so I took a deep breath and told a group of students who were gossiping about mental illness that I had been hospitalized 15+ years ago when I was a teenager for severe depression. I told them that lots of organs in the body have chemical issues from time to time – like how a pancreas not creating enough insulin causes Type 1 diabetes – and that we don’t act horrified when a person with diabetes needs hospitalization followed by outpatient care with trained medical specialists. (The students agreed with this.) Ditto for thyroid issues. (Agreed.) And when brains chemically misfire – we get mental illnesses. (Lightbulb moment!) So mental illness isn’t something that’s different than diabetes or hypothyroidism – and life would be easier for all of us if we treated it with the same compassion and support as we did when anyone else was hospitalized for non-mental health reasons.

              3. Always Late to the Party*

                I was thinking the “I’m out Tuesday at 1 for therapy” would be a good way to normalize therapy, but also wouldn’t want the report to feel like they needed to share the reason for their own medial appointments. In this particular case, modeling “sick time doesn’t require explanation” might be more valuable.

          2. Double A*

            Why on earth are people supposing a manager would do an information dump about being queer, gender fluid, and having a mental illness any more than someone would do a dump about what you mentioned?

            The idea of destigmatizing is that these things are NOT a big deal. So no, your report should not know all these things Day 1, probably. But as they work there, these issues of identity can and should come up naturally in conversation as things that are not a big deal.

            1. nom de plume*

              Yes, thank you. I find the answers here really icky, in the vein of “I don’t want to know about your difference” – which is a level below “I don’t want to know about your struggles” (which, okay).

              But it’s very, very possible for a manager to say “I know from experience that mental health issues can be difficult to deal with, and there’s no judgment here” or something similar. People’s reactions in this sub-thread are coming off as really knee-jerk.

            2. Joielle*

              This! Of course nobody’s going to be like “HELLO NEW EMPLOYEE, HERE’S YOUR DESK, I’M YOUR MANAGER, I’M QUEER AND GENDER FLUID AND I TAKE XANAX” but at some point if it comes up in conversation they might be like “yeah, I usually use they/them pronouns but I’ve been trying out xe/xir and I kind of like it.” Or “my ex-girlfriend loved that restaurant!” Or “can we move that meeting later? I have a standing therapy appointment Mondays at 2 but I should be back by 3:30.” Or “Sorry I missed your email, I’ve been a bit off my game lately, I’m trying out a new anxiety medication and haven’t totally figured out the side effects yet.”

              There’s a wide gulf between mentioning gender/sexuality/mental health in passing and oversharing. The problem is when someone thinks ANY mention of those things is oversharing, when mentioning (for example) a different-sex partner or a heart condition is not.

              1. WMG*

                I had a manager who, on my first day, told me about how she and her partner were in couples’ therapy, and what the therapist was having them do, and how she was considering individual therapy/ medication. It was my first job out of college, and I had no idea how to respond. As you might imagine, I didn’t last there very long. My point is – never underestimate the mind-blowingly inappropriate things people might say!

            3. Oh No She Di'int*

              I also think part of the problem here is that commenters are bending over backwards to excuse ALL the disclosure or NONE of the disclosure. Is it possible that different topics require different approaches?

              -Some things might be fine in an information dump: “I’m married and my wife’s name is Ann.”
              -Other things are fine if they come up naturally and are relevant: “It may take me a bit longer to get through these TPS reports because of my dyslexia.”
              -Other things might be revealed in a discreet way if it signals to a specific person that they can feel comfortable: “Listen Joan, I go to a therapist every Tuesday and I find that it helps a lot. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
              -Other things perhaps really should be off limits in a work setting: I see no reason ever to tell anyone about specific medications I’m taking. Nobody needs to know that.

              1. Blaise*

                lol, I literally JUST had a conversation with coworkers about my medication!

                My condition comes up in conversation quite a bit because I’m on a pretty restricted diet due to it and don’t believe in shying away from the truth, so whenever there’s shared food and someone inevitably offers some to me or asks why I’m not partaking or something, I’m happy to just tell the truth as to why I can’t have any.

                Anyway, it turned out several coworkers of mine also have it, so we were comparing experiences and naturally the medication came up- we’re all on some version of it or another. I also wanted to give my coworkers a heads up that so far research shows that that particular medication makes people higher risk for Covid- none of them were aware so I was glad I shared! (We’re working in person, unfortunately).

                That being said, I think teachers just tend to be the much more open type of person. I could never work somewhere where I had to censor myself around my coworkers like some people talk about!

          3. tectonic*

            You’ve just made my argument by disagreeing, oddly enough.

            Mental health issues are not a “Big Disclosure”; they are, just like how many kids you have or your love of German Shepherds, a perfectly mundane and normal part of someone’s life. I’m bipolar; I might mention it in passing, as it may help to explain the occasionally overwrought email or comment, but that’s it. Your framing of my perfectly-normal mental illness as somehow being unacceptable in polite society is what contributes to the shame that many of us feel.

        3. Bagpuss*

          I think there is a difference between knowing because it’s come up naturally in conversations, and having someone explicitly sit you down and tell you (especially if they tell you all of those things at once)

          So a manger (or any co-worker) suddenly saying “By the way, I’m Queer and Gender Questioning” would be weird, as it would be if they sudden said “By the way I’m Hetero”

          But it isn’t oversharing or inappropriate, and is destigmatising, if you areopen where it naturally comes up in conversation e.g. if you are talking about what you did at the weekend, and a you (assuming a female presenting) manager say “My wife and I went to a great socially distanced concert” or “My girlfriend was feeling under the weather, so we just stayed in and I made gallons of chicken soup” or “I spent some time planning on how I can celebrate Pride this year given the need for social distancing” or “I spent a load of time preparing an article I’ve written for a local parents group, talking about the kinds of challenges that Queer and gender questioning kids face in High School, and how to support them – I am really hoping it helps younger people to have an easier time than I did”
          because those are things that are a natural part of the question about what you did at the weekend, just as in your case it might be “I went to my daughter’s swim meet – it’s the first time they’ve been able to have a meet since the virus hit so she was really excited” or “My daughter was under the weather so we had a quiet weekend and I made gallons of chicken soup”

          Same with the other issues – it would be weird to make a point of sharing them, unless there is a specific reason to do so, but you don’t need to hide them or fudge any references to them.

          1. Anon Lawyer*

            I think the issue here is that all these things can be appropriate – you just need to have a good sense of appropriate social boundaries, which aren’t really easy to explain in a blog comment.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Some stuff can take years to come up in conversation. I worked for a person for 10 years, one day I mentioned I had an associate’s degree. This boss did not know that. I assumed they read my resume when they started the job, so I never mentioned it. Nope they worked with me for 10 years and never knew that about me and it never came up in conversation. Basic info can go a long time before getting mentioned.

              OP, if you want to destigmatize anything, a good way to go about it is to talk about everyone, not just yourself. John is making wise remarks because Bob needs to go for counseling for personal reasons. Jump right in and say, “John, these remarks are not acceptable here. We don’t treat each other this way.”
              The reason I am pointing this out is that once you become a boss you are no longer an “I”. you are now a “we”. It’s no longer about your battles, it’s about your battles PLUS everyone’s battles who is working under you. Bring them along with you. Let’s say, John wants to push the point about Bob. You can inform Bob that you yourself have been for counseling and you find John’s comments unacceptable and you will be taking action steps A, B and C.

              I think what you, as a new boss, are looking for is an introductory way of telling people to exhale and not sweat life stuff. It’s fine to say that if anyone has problems such as harassment they should come talk with you immediately because you do not stand for this stuff. These general introductory statements are super helpful and work very well. If you want to give general examples of what you will not tolerate that is good too.

              I had a new boss take over my department. One of the many problems we had was that other departments were telling us what to do. We ended up doing work that was not our job, we lacked the quals to do and so on. The boss said that all requests for help had to go through him and if we received a request for help we were to either tell the person to ask Boss or ask him directly on our own.
              This statement worked out so well. The requests from other departments went way down. It finally stopped when one person in MY department actually went and did unauthorized task and the Big Boss came and got her. He walked her right out of that area and back to our department. With this the requests/demands from other departments came to a screeching halt.

              I copied this idea of giving people rules of thumb with my own people. Others were coming into my area and telling my people not to do this or that. So I said to my group, “If someone tells you not to do x, tell them to come see me and return to doing x until I tell you what we need to do instead. I am your funnel for information. I sift it all and tell you the bottom line that you need to know. If people have different ideas they are most welcome to talk to me. I will listen.” The crap of other people telling my group what to do ended.

              Give your people rules of thumb for what you will not tolerate and they do not have to put up with. Take the specific and find the over arching concepts. Then put your foot down.

          2. Birdie*

            I totally agree. I don’t think bosses (or anyone, really) should put people in a position where they feel like they’re somehow expected to respond or address it, but I do think good can be done by referencing those things as a basic part of your life.

            I have been in situations in my work where someone has asked me about taking regular time off for therapy or something along those lines (and to be clear, this was in a more mentory type role – I wasn’t a manager). Usually, it was clear that they were uncomfortable broaching this in a professional environment and were worried about being judged. I got into the habit of saying things like, “It’s important to make time for those appointments. What worked best for me, schedule-wise, was X, but another way to approach it might be Y or Z.” Just something in passing that implied that I had similar experiences and understood where they were coming from without making a big deal about it or inviting a response. There may’ve been a couple that thought even that was oversharing, I don’t know. But watching most people visibly relax and become more comfortable with the conversation when they realized I wasn’t going to judge was worth it.

          3. Traffic_Spiral*

            This is where I’d draw the line as well. Things that come up in normal conversation are fine, but random announcements are awkward. I mean, what are you supposed to say in response? Congrats?

        4. Homebody*

          I think this might be missing the mark a bit. It’s more about the professional aspect of the relationship and the boundaries that are needed to prevent power dynamics from coming into play, than “is it because they are queer that you are having this reaction”.

          I wouldn’t mind if my manager was queer any more than I would mind if my manager had a heterosexual marriage with 3 kids. But if either came up to me and started oversharing about their personal life with me it would make me very uncomfortable.

          I think in both cases the manager is better off advocating for a better environment for their employees (better parental leave benefits, flex time, inclusivity).

          1. anone*

            Queer people are constantly held to a different standard of what is considered “oversharing” though. This is the point. You say you wouldn’t mind, but the subtext is “as long as I don’t have to hear about it”, in which case… you DO mind. Are you likely to ask yourself, “is it because they are straight that they’re having this reaction?” Are you likely to assume everyone you meet is straight unless it’s mentioned otherwise?

            1. MayLou*

              If you wouldn’t consider it oversharing for a manager to respond “That sounds really hard, I’ve never had mental health problems myself but people I care about have and I would like to support you in whatever way you need” if an employee discloses their struggles, but you would consider it oversharing to say “That sounds really hard, I have had similar problems myself and I would like to support you in whatever way you need” then you are stigmatising mental health problems. In the same way, if a woman talking about the existence of her boyfriend isn’t “banging on about sexuality all the time”, then neither is a woman talking about the existence of her girlfriend.

          2. nom de plume*

            Commentators keep taking this as the default – that OP would sit people down and tell them all this unsolicited, and I don’t read their post that way *at all*. They’re saying that if it were to come up in conversation and in context, they would acknowledge that they understand from first-person experience.

            That people are so keen to see it as the former scenario comes off as… really unsavory, honestly.

            1. Bagpuss*

              I think in this *specific thread* people are commenting in response to Horse Girl explicitly saying “If my manager were to tell me they’re queer, gender questioning, in therapy, etc I’d feel overwhelmed by all that information.”

          3. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

            Here’s the tricky bit, though.

            My cis-het husband can bring up having a wife and child and it makes him look like a stable, employable guy.

            Me, a cis-het woman risks some concern that I might get pregnant or have childcare issues when I mention my husband and child – but both of those concerns pass quickly and I become a stable, employable woman.

            I tread a bit more carefully when bringing up my cis-twin sister, her lovely wife, and my absolutely amazing niece. I spend more time reading the room before bringing up my lesbian twin – so how much more exhausting must it be for anyone who has to read the room before talking about themselves and the people they love?

        5. Grapey*

          Not who you replied to, but I do get uncomfortable when I hear other people talking about “trying for a baby” as code for what goes on in their bedrooms. Saying you having 3 kids is fine, talking about how your body worked to get there is TMI for me. (IVF, “the old fashioned way” etc. Not interested.)

          Things that are traditionally a non-issue might do well with some introspection too.

          1. MayLou*

            Trying for a baby literally just means doing something with the aim of getting pregnant. It isn’t code for what goes on in their bedrooms, it’s a polite way to NOT talk about the method. This seems an odd thing to object to.

        6. kt*

          Well, honestly, if a manager sat me down and said, “You know, I’m planning a wedding.” and then looked at me expectantly, I’d be creeped out.

          I don’t want my manager to *tell me* they’re gender-questioning or in therapy, just as I don’t want them to *tell me* they’re planning a wedding/getting a puppy, unless it impact my work/actions. I’m happy for them to *say it* to me. I know this is a really small difference that’s not fully carried by the words — does it make sense?

          Situations where you need/want to *tell me* something: “I’m changing my pronouns. Going forward, I’d like you to use ***.” Cool, got it. “I’m getting a puppy and prefer not to have any meetings over 1 hour next week.” Cool, got it. “I’m trying a new medication that may have the side effect of making me sleepy. If it’s an issue in our meetings, don’t hesitate to point it out; my doctor and I are trying to dial in the dose.” Ok, I know what to do. “I’m transitioning and will be changing my name and look. Going forward, I’d like you to call me (****)”. Great, I’ll do it.

          Situations where you just say something: “Oh yeah, ElizabethJane’s known me forever so knows how to read me.” “Yeah, I’m really playing with my gender-identity so I’ve been checking out the menswear shop on Grand Av.” “I’m going hiking with my partner this weekend; they were super-interested in this route that goes by some waterfalls.” “When I’ve worked with my ADHD in the past, this book about organizing really helped me out — I’ll give you the title.”

        7. Yorick*

          I think mentioning things in conversation usually feels less like oversharing. Mentioning a spouse of whatever gender, or kids, or an LGBT group/event, or whatever will let your coworkers know details about you, but you don’t have to necessarily come out and explain your identity. If my female manager mentioned planning a wedding as we were talking about our weekends, that would be different than her sitting me down and telling me she’s straight and engaged to a man (which would seem kinda weird).

          So I guess my advice is for OP to let details they’re comfortable sharing out when it seems natural to do so, rather than thinking of how to communicate them to staff. And to proactively mention ways they might support the direct report. Like, if my new manager came out of nowhere and said I can let them know about any issues that ever come up and they’ll support me with flexibility or accommodations or whatever, I’d think that was cool.

        8. Asenath*

          Well, actually, I rarely knew if my manager was married or had children. Sometimes it would come up in conversation, but not often, and never with any detail (eg more than teh number of children or the name or “my husband” or “my wife”). I knew more about the personal lives of my peers – or at least those I worked with closely – and even then I don’t know a lot of detail. I think it can make things very uncomfortable for a manager to share a lot of personal information with the workers – the workers would be wondering what they are supposed to do with this? Share back personal information about their spouses and children and mental health issues? Do something extra at work to help out a manager who they may assume is struggling? For me, most personal details should be kept out of the workplace. It’s really none of my business what my manger and co-worker’s gender identity or family status or mental health status is – for reasons of privacy and personal space, not of stigma.

          It’s much better for the manager to support the workers, and provide what they need – a well-organized and well-run workplace, with sufficient flexibility to help the workers should they need time off for appointments etc for any problems they may have.

          1. Anon Lawyer*

            This seems pretty extreme. I’ve met most of my managers’ spouses and children at various company events, they have pictures on their desks, I ask them about their weekends and they answer, same as anyone else. It’s fine.

            1. allathian*

              This really depends on the employer. I’ve met some of my coworkers’ kids on “Bring your kids to work” days, and in a couple cases, their spouses who came to pick them up from work and we happened to share the elevator to the lobby and got introduced. But my employer never organizes any +1 events, so meeting a spouse is definitely not expected. My office has assigned seating, a few have their own offices but most people share a room with one or more coworkers. There are plenty of personal items and photos of kids and grandkids, but rarely any spouses or partners.

          2. TechWorker*

            This may depend on your workplace. If you have a big team where your manager does very different work and isn’t really involved in the day to day, that can feel quite different to if you see your manager regularly and chat to them casually. The relationship is never going to be identical to that of a peer obviously but there’s plenty of companies where you’re not on a totally different level.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, this. But even then, a good manager is friendly but doesn’t try to be friends, or it can backfire.

              I really enjoy working with and for my current manager, because she’s friendly but also respects the difference in our roles. I respect her as my manager and as a person, and I have no issues with incorporating corrective feedback from her in my work.

              My former manager was an over-sharer. She really wanted people to like her, and I did. She was fun to be around, considerate in small ways (she never forgot a birthday and always bought her reports small Christmas presents, like movie tickets, on her own dime) and a very warm personality. She’s a few years from retirement, and while she’s not quite old enough to be my mom, she was pretty much a typical “office mom”. She also talked a lot about her private life, including her son’s tough divorce. The thing that really bothered me was how she’d whine to her reports about how hard being a manager was. Sure, it’s not for everyone and I know that it’s definitely not for me, but her reports aren’t the appropriate people to share that with. She was a nice person but not a particularly good manager, and all too often I had to remind her several times of something I needed from her to be able to complete a project. I realize she was overworked, but so were we all, and going out to lunch together for “friendly chats” didn’t help when I needed something from her to do my job…

              I liked her as a person but I didn’t respect her as my manager. That showed when we were overloaded with work and when we were trying to work out how to deal with that, I basically questioned her right to manage what I did and how I did it. Until then she had been a very hands-off manager so her intervention was a bit surprising, but I suspect that a better manager would have intervened earlier, before things got that bad. Don’t get me wrong, the intervention was absolutely necessary and now I’m really glad it happened, but both of us could have handled it a lot better.

              In one of our discussions she said “I feel like you don’t respect me as your manager” and it was a light bulb moment, I didn’t. I’m very lucky I work in the Nordics, in the US I would probably have been fired for insubordination or at the very least got a warning. This was a wake-up call for me, and also for her. She went on a job rotation to a sister organization, and when she comes back at the end of this year, she won’t be coming back to a management role. Before she left, we did talk things through and it will be interesting to see how we’ll interact when she’s my peer rather than my manager.

              I realized that I prefer and need a manager with boundaries. If you want to be my manager, don’t try to be my friend and don’t make me your confidante.

        9. JSPA*

          That’s relevant and fair regarding “queer.”

          “Gender questioning” is more ambiguous. Some people use it to mean a constant state of being, somewhere in the ballpark of genderfluid or NB. Other people use it to mean, “figuring out my specific descriptor, but I’m comfortable with my overall state of being.” Others, “considering transitioning.” Yet others use it to mean, “highly conflicted over the role of gender in my life.”*

          The last of those, in particular, is probably too personal and too drama-adjacent for a workplace, especially as it’s just not actionable in any way by your coworkers.

          Asking people to use certain pronouns for you gives them a useful prompt. Telling them that your gender presentation may fluctuate, and they don’t need to feel awkward about that on your behalf can be very considerate. But asking them to engage with any level of your inner turmoil, is not OK. If you need a day off, they don’t need to know if it’s for that, or a biopsy, or anything else.

          * Yes, there are definitions of each term. No, they’re not interchangeable. But noticing how (and when) people use the word, it’s become something of a catch-all, in practical usage.

      2. AnonInTheCity*

        Wait, really? What are you picturing “telling someone they’re queer” looks like? If your manager says “I went to the movies with my wife this weekend,” is that too much information if they’re a woman but not if they’re a man?

        1. Mommy Shark*

          I think sometimes non-queer folks think we have big coming outs to every person we meet. Like tiny pride parades at all times.

          1. Blue Anne*

            I mean, I would kind of like to have a tiny pride parade at all times. I’m picturing an entire parade marching around my office, just made up of tiny little people, maybe an inch tall.

            But, it sounded to me like Horse Girl means that it would be overwhelming for all of that to be infodumped at once. I feel like I could’ve written this question, and I definitely con’t conceal my queerness at work, but I wouldn’t bring all of it up at once either.

            Horse Girl, if that’s what you meant – yeah that would be a lot, but no, we really don’t do that.

            1. Mommy Shark*

              I was picturing someone with one of those mini confetti poppers in their pocket that they shoot off every time they mention their same sex partner/s or gender identy haha

              1. Not A Girl Boss*

                This would be amazing!!

                I found out my coworker is gay because he said he went to the movies with his boyfriend that weekend. And I was like, “Ok cool, what movie did you see?”
                What did he want me to do with that information? Maybe know enough about his personal life that we could casually converse without him having to actively hide the information? He certainly didn’t expect me to throw him a “Congrats, you’re gay” parade or launch into a proclamation of ally-ship. (But, if he did, mini confetti poppers would definitely be involved.)

            2. Bertha*

              Horse girl said “I’m queer, I’m gender questioning, I go to therapy etc” and I assumed she meant the whole sentence from the LW – “I’m queer, I’m gender questioning, I go to therapy, I have ADHD, I take meds for both that and mental health stuff, etc. etc.” So I think your assessment that the overwhelming part would be the “everything dumped at once” is right because that is how I would feel. Even reading the sentence I imagined someone saying that to me and responding… ooookay! Many of those things even apply to me personally, but that seems like a lot once. But yeah, you are right that that is NOT how this manager would bring it up!

              1. anone*

                HONESTLY why is everyone assuming that this person would convey the information that way? There is NOTHING in that original email that suggests that. There’s a completely lack of good faith happening and catastrophizing to only the worst case scenario version of this, which is NOT helpful.

                1. Yorick*

                  Well, I wouldn’t assume they would. But since they’re asking how to convey the information, I guess it makes sense to say “maybe don’t do it this way.”

        2. Nesprin*

          I had an employee thank me for not caring when she brought up her female partner. Was eye opening to me, because I cared deeply about her work, and not at all about her home life.

          1. Tabby*

            @nesprin LOL So I’m not the only one who really doesn’t care? Dating same sex, intersex, no sex, fluid sex? Are you both consenting to the relationship and happy about it? GOOD.

            I’ve had people be super surprised (pleasantly so) when I didn’t even react to, “I’m gay/nonbinary/genderfluid…” speeches. It doesn’t really change anything for me, bar the pronouns I’ll need to use in the future with them, or whether I need to remember if their partner has different pronouns than the ‘traditional’.

            Other than that, I couldn’t possibly care any less. Whatever, you didn’t just tell me you murdered and ate children, which I’d have a deeply negative response to; you told me a perfectly normal fact about yourself!

      3. charo*

        I agree. Saying you’re “questioning” is TMI, whether it’s “gender questioning” or “wondering if you should cheat on your spouse.” Not that they’re the same thing, but they’re both personal and unresolved at this point.

        You may be “vasectomy questioning” or “changing jobs questioning” or many other kinds of QUESTIONING.

        But I don’t need to hear about it at work. I don’t need to hear about it unless we’re very close friends and this is in private.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          I absolutely don’t think its TMI to ask those you work with to use gender fluid pronouns. That is not private, its public information about who you are, just as much as its public knowledge that a ‘he’ is a him and a ‘she’ is a her.

          What is TMI is to discuss a private decision in a way that solicits advice. You probably shouldn’t ask your coworkers for advice on much outside of how to format a TPS report or what new restaurant to try. Because, presumably, you don’t actually want your coworkers advice on your procreation decisions or your gender.

        2. Jeanette*

          I don’t think it’s fair to say that people need to have their entire identities worked out before they can talk about them at work, though. While I agree with other commenters that LW shouldn’t bring it up in a context where someone might feel like they are supposed to help them work through that, I don’t think it’s unprofessional to say something like “Hey, I’ve decided to try new pronouns for a bit– I’ll let you know if/when that becomes permanent!” or “Hey, you might have noticed I’m dressing more feminine these days, I’m still going by Jeremy, he/him though!”

      4. Ace in the Hole*

        I think you’re picturing all this information coming in one conversation. But would it bother you if it came up in dribs and drabs over the entire time you work with someone?

        More to the point – would you consider it oversharing to know that your manager had a (opposite sex) spouse, that they saw a doctor for routine appointments, etc? We routinely learn such details about coworker’s lives through normal professional conversation.

      5. Not A Girl Boss*

        I think the key here is that a manager communicating those things could make direct reports feel like they need to be your support system – not that you are supporting them. And its really not appropriate to recruit your direct reports to become a member of Team You.

        If you can communicate things about your life without also packaging it up with the pressure to *do* something with the information (other than be accepting), I say go for it. But I think it can be tough to pull it off, especially when direct reports often feel pressure to take on ownership of things you didn’t really intend for them to own.

        Things that I think are ok (if delivered in a matter of fact way):
        -Sending an email to your team “I’m taking a mental health day today”
        -Being open about your queer relationships
        -Going by your preferred pronouns, and adding them to your email signature.
        -Signalling that you are an ally. One thing my work does is provide ‘ally’ stickers we can add to our badges and name plates.
        -Explaining that you prefer work done in a certain way because of an accommodation
        —(Example: my new manager casually mentioned she has dyslexia, so I should never hesitate to correct her spelling, and that she wanted me to use a certain font when communicating with her. Similarly, my coworker gestured to her coloring book the first day and said “oh, just so you know, coloring during meetings helps my ADHD.”)

        Things that might create unintentional pressure:
        -Explaining that you have a therapy appointment (instead of just ‘a recurring appointment’) – I think this can cause pressure for direct reports to reveal the nature of their own medical appointments
        -Expecting everyone to want to have open discussions about the status of their mental or physical health (all the horrifying letters about starting meetings with discussion of feelings)
        -Going into the gory details of the reasons behind your mental health day
        -Discussing specific medications/treatments you’ve tried
        -Going into an inappropriate level of detail about your relationships (Obviously this applies to all relationships but I find that every toxic workplace I’ve worked in has featured ‘personal relationship drama’ and ‘sex talk’)
        -Offering unsolicited advice
        -Offering solicited advice that you aren’t qualified to give, rather than redirecting to an appropriate resource

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          This is my favorite comment here so far because this shows, for me, what I would consider appropriate boundaries in the workplace.

        2. Reality Biting*

          -Explaining that you have a therapy appointment (instead of just ‘a recurring appointment’) – I think this can cause pressure for direct reports to reveal the nature of their own medical appointments

          Could not agree with you more that this is out of bounds. In our office we have an unofficial “Do not disclose” policy on any sort of sick day absence or health treatment of any kind, even if it’s just a routine tooth cleaning at the dentist for precisely that reason.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            Hearing you reiterate it just made me question my own list. I had listed specific appointment type as a no-no, but also that its a good thing to encourage mental health days. So, I’m a hypocrite.

            I guess, reflecting, I would want my boss to normalize mental health days because every time I take one and code it as “sick” instead of “vacation” I feel a twinge of guilt, or like I’d be in trouble if my boss ran into me at the grocery store. So maybe, I’d rather my boss flat out told me that they consider ‘mental health days’ to be sick days, and also that I did not need to disclose the specific nature of the day off.

        3. Legal Beagle*

          I really like this. For me, the discomfort was with sharing personal information with no workplace-related context. Ok, you go to therapy. Ok, you have ADHD. As a direct report, what am I supposed to *do* with this information? If it’s just an open-ended FYI, that would make uncomfortable since it seems more like a personal overshare than relevant information for me as an employee. If the sharing is done with a purpose relevant to me professionally, I have context for the information. For example, if my boss is genderqueer or gender-questioning, I would want to be aware of their preferred pronouns. That’s actionable information for me. By contrast, the specifics of their gender identity journey are likely quite personal and I’d be uncomfortable being brought into that because it’s crossing a professional boundary.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I think it is wise to know the point of saying something. I understand that OP wants to help defeat the stigma. I don’t think letting go of a huge amount of one’s information is going to change people. They will just make sure they take their hurtful remarks somewhere out of OP’s ear shot. I think it is more to the point that OP be available for anyone with concerns or difficulties from harassment of any sort. I think letting people know this, OP, upfront and early on is a good strong step.

        4. CareerChanger*

          I think these specific examples are great.

          In terms of appointments, I suppose team cultures differ. In my team culture, you could say “therapy”–as an analogy, I’m thinking it would be really normal for someone to say, “I need to leave early for physical therapy” or to specify eye doctor or dentist; then again, if someone said “off to get my colonoscopy!” I wouldn’t love that–but also it’s okay to just say “recurring appointment” and that means we don’t ask.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            Personally, I try to resist providing specifics. Because then, if there’s a time I don’t want to provide details, it seems more blatantly obvious that you’re hiding something. Or, I have to lie about the nature of my appointment.

            Sometimes, your boss really won’t care if you don’t specify, but because its such a norm to provide specifics, there is an internal pressure to do so. So it can be helpful to have a boss who models the nonspecific behavior.

        5. anone*

          Thank you for offering an actually helpful response.

          The only thing I’d offer is that “ally” badges and stickers can have the reverse effect. Personally, I mistrust anyone who has stickers like that–my experience has been that people are not good at self-identifying that accurately and it’s better to avoid them than go to them. I look for behaviours, not stickers.

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              Thanks for the insight. I guess at my work I have seen it only on people who I genuinely believe care deeply about inclusion, but obviously a sticker alone is not enough, and just because you consider yourself an ally doesn’t mean you are.

          1. Joielle*

            And also it might lead you to assume things that aren’t true! Personally, I’m a queer cis woman married to a queer cis man, so looking at us you’d assume we were straight. We’re not “allies,” we’re the “B” in LGBT. But if a coworker assumed I was straight and noticed that I didn’t have an “ally” badge, they might think I didn’t support queer people, when it’s really the opposite.

            Maybe this is getting too far afield, but if you’re going to do badges, I like how my husband’s company handles this. They have an “LGBT affinity group,” which you can join (and have the associated sticker on your employee ID) whether or not you’re in the LGBT community. There are lots of straight-passing queer people, allies, people who have a queer kid, etc. So it doesn’t tell you someone’s sexuality, just that they’re involved in the group (so you can assume, generally supportive).

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              Thanks for this insight! Our stickers are literally just a rainbow colored ribbon, so I’ve seen both allies and LGTBQ coworkers wear them.

      6. Aquawoman*

        Do you not see a problem with assuming that straight cis neurotypical have information come out just in the usual course of things but that queer, trans, neurodivergent people can’t do that unless they are making a Big Announcement? I doubt the LW meant, “hey should I start our next one on one by announcing every single one of the ways that I’m not in the majority?” and more like, is it okay to have it arise naturally in conversation.

      7. Eve Polastri*

        Gotta agree with Horse Girl. As a subordinate, i just want information from my boss that pertains to my job. If my boss has an issue that is preventing her from doing something that day, then letting me know is fine. But to come out and let me know all of that is TMI.

      8. sarah*

        I agree. It’s too much information. I also wouldn’t want to know if my straight heterosexual boss was questioning his marriage, going to therapy, or enjoying wearing his wife’s underwear in his free time, etc.

    4. MRL946*

      Without wanting to sound like a grumpy old intolerant curmudgeon, a manager’s role is to lead, supervise, support and appraise their employees. It is not to de-stigmatise [x], normalise [y] or fight against [z] kind of social injustice – however personal they may be to said manager, or noble the cause overall. Managers do not exist as moral authorities nor arbiters, and subordinates do not expect nor require them to do so. For bosses to assume such a role so is not only tacky, it is also profoundly arrogant.

      1. Cat Lady*

        I think this misses the point that destigmatizing, normalizing, and fighting against social injustice is often a CRUCIAL element of supporting employees. Because doing nothing implicitly endorses the stigma and social injustice. If, for instance, an employee uses they/them pronouns, it’s certainly my responsibility to help normalize a) not misgendering that person and b) a culture of not making gender assumptions or gender binary thinking.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          But sometimes the best way to do that is to just . . . do it.

          One of the tellers at my local bank branch transitioned a few years ago. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, obviously, since I don’t work there, but publicly, nobody said anything. The only comment I’ve heard about it was when the guy who was waited on before me tried to lead a different teller with, “So, what became of [teller’s deadname]?” and the teller stared him down and replied, “What do you mean?” Since it was pretty obvious what he meant and also that his teller wasn’t going to take the bait, he had the choice of ending the line of questioning or looking like an ass. He didn’t press on.

          I’m a cis-het woman. I have the luxury of having most of my needs accommodated with a minimum of fuss and extra attention (I’m on the autism spectrum but functional enough, and in a kind of job, that I don’t need assistance right now). Sometimes just doing something as though it’s totally normal is an effective way to, well, normalize it.

        2. Bopper*

          YES.

          And in the work context, I see:
          Not: I’m gay!
          but: I went to the beach with my husband (same gender) and dogs this weekend.

          Not sure I need announcements but you can reveal things in context in normal conversations.

          So not: I have been diagnosed with anxiety!
          But like the example above: “I recently started taking Zoloft for my anxiety and it’s great to get treatment but I’ve been soo sleepy. I really miss the free office coffee”

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Employees are people who may very well be dealing with mental health issues or social injustices. Knowing that they have a supportive manager can be beneficial.

      3. Sylvia*

        I tend to agree. There’s just such a weird imbalance of power in the workplace that is going to make someone feel pressured or “outed” no matter how you do it.

        This is not to say, though, that someone should not “come out” at work or shouldn’t tell people what pronouns they prefer or whatever. They absolutely should if they feel comfortable, and that’s fine. That’s different to me though.

        If my manager were to tell me she is struggling with her mental health, I would go insane wondering how to respond. Am I supposed to just ignore it? Is she expecting me to support her in some way? If I don’t support her, will she penalize me in my job? It’s just a big no for me.

        1. RedinSC*

          So much this!

          How do I respond? What is expected of me? If I need something will I be able to ask it, wondering how that might affect you?

          As an employee I don’t want to be made responsible in any way for your mental health.

          I think it really all comes down to context, as people were saying. Zoloft has helped me but I feel so sleepy, vs I struggle with mental health.

          I went to the movies with my [same sex partner] vs I’m queer. I think normalizing comes down to just being authentic, but don’t place a burden on your staff.

      4. MissBliss*

        But de-stigmatizing things *is* supporting your employees. Which is not to say that it needs to be an individual conversation with each and every employee, but your comment seems to imply that it is outside of the purview of leadership, and I firmly disagree. It is not arrogant or tacky. I don’t look to my manager to serve as a moral authority. But I do expect them to treat me like a person and accept that I am a whole person, with needs outside of work. Having had a supervisor who acknowledged those needs but did not dwell on them made a world of difference. It’s not proselytizing. It’s making the workplace more accessible and welcoming.

        1. Double A*

          I think some people are viewing destigmatizing as, like, a moral campaign with Trainings and Meetings and Initiatives and Speeches, when really it just means being casual and normal about stuff that should be casual and normal but currently has some stigma around it.

          1. Cat Lady*

            Ha, yes! Destigmatizing means helping people learn that X thing is not A Big Deal, and the best way to do that is through casual, regular references. To normalize something, you just act like it’s normal!

      5. EPLawyer*

        I’m kinda here. Your report doesn’t need to know the why. Just be supportive of days off by modeling good work life balance. Don’t grumble if they ask for a day off. Let them know that they SHOULD take their vacation/PTO for whatever use they wish (provided its legal of course). Don’t nickel and dime them on PTO if they take an hour or two off for a doctor’s appointment. If your company allows it, let them come in early or work late to even out the time. Let them know YOU use the flexibility you are offering them by doing so, without saying “yeah, off to the doctor’s to get my ADHD medication updated.” Just “I’ll be leaving 2 hours early on Thursday but will be in early on Friday to handle anything that comes up.” And don’t check email after hours, nor expect them to if they use their flex scheduling.
        Finally, don’t demand details of them. If they say ” I have a standing appointment every 2 weeks” don’t ask what it is under the guise of being “supportive.” Just say noted and let them know you will do your best to not schedule meetings that involve them during that time.

        In other words, be the boss you want to have. One that supports without getting into your business.

        1. Moo*

          This! There was a study recently (can’t remember the citation!) that showed the biggest factor in people actually taking steps for better work-life balance was seeing it modelled by their manager/boss. Like if your boss tells you it’s ok to go home on time, but they never do it themselves, people see it as a sign they won’t progress unless they act like the boss. Modelling these good behaviours yourself sends a strong signal to your reports to do so, than simply telling them.

        2. Always Late to the Party*

          So I agree that over-sharing your personal health details is not the best way to support your employees because it can create the expectation that they should do the same.

          But I don’t think that means a manager can’t normalize mental health challenges / gender identity in other ways without “championing for a cause”.

      6. Dadolwch*

        I really disagree with your opinion, MRL946. If it’s not the job of organizational leadership to foster a more open and welcoming environment for diversity, then who should? Humans don’t exist in a moral vacuum; every organization or more than 2 people needs to have shared values they can express and work on.

        1. Lola Banks*

          Thank you! Imagine if organizational leadership felt it wasn’t their role to normalize “social” matters like maternity leave…

        2. OhNoYouDidn't*

          I didn’t get the impression that’s what he was saying. I actually think he was saying what a lot of others here are saying. Just being professional, accepting, and fair is going to automatically create an inclusive and accepting environment without preaching and making pronouncements. If boss has an inclusive, professional, and accepting attitude towards an individual who is (pick your issue … queer, dealing with depression, of a minority religion or ethnicity, etc.), without making pronouncements and standing on a soapbox, then it will set the standard for the rest of the team. If anyone else is not treating others appropriately, then boss would address that like any other inappropriate behavior. I think he is advocating the idea that behaving justly and treating people like humans will minimize the amount of words needed to create a just and de-stigmatized environment. Making pronouncements and oversharing can seem preachy and condescending. I don’t know if I’m saying it clearly, but that is my impression of what he said.

          1. Dadolwch*

            I get where you’re both coming from, but as an LGBTQ person, I can tell you that “just being professional, accepting, and fair” does not automatically foster an inclusive environment. It can feel to (and often result in) employees from marginalized groups that their leadership is not interested in standing up for them or even recognizing that the organization’s broader culture is not inclusive. Maintaining the status quo is great if you’re part of the privileged mainstream, but all it does for employees struggling with bias against them is to reinforce that not rocking the boat is more important than their needs.

      7. animaniactoo*

        I disagree – given the struggles that many have had around mental health and chronic illness issues, normalizing the existence of them IS leading and supporting their employees.

        As long as they do not make it the campaign over and above otherwise being a manager, dragging out their stump speech whenever there is the slightest reference to it. That is when it would become a negative impact rather than a neutral or positive one imo.

      8. ElizabethJane*

        I don’t think anyone is asking managers to exist as moral arbiters but more how to signal in an organic way that their office is accepting and won’t judge for very common personal issues. How many letters does AAM get for

        “I’m going through a divorce and don’t know how to tell my boss this will impact my work”
        “I’m transitioning and I don’t know how to bring it up or if my office will be accepting”
        “I’ve recently started receiving treatment for [INSERT MENTAL HEALTH HERE] and I don’t know how to bring it up with my manager”

        I don’t believe the OP is asking how to campaign against every social injustice but rather how to signal to their employees “Hey if you need to ask about this issue I have also experienced something similar. It did not hold me back professionally and I will help ensure it does not hold you back either”.

      9. elefant*

        I also disagree. Managers have power, and it’s the responsibility of those with power to lead on equity and inclusion. That absolutely includes de-stigmatising mental illness and disability and advocating for minority groups within the company and profession.

      10. Lana Kane*

        Leadership involves more than what you described. Supervising humans involves knowing how to deal with human issues in the context of managing the work.

      11. Tabby*

        Actually, it damn well is if they want their subordinates to be productive workers. We spend 8 plus hours a day with these people, as a rule; part of supporting your staff is making sure they can take care of their health, be it mental or physical. I wouldn’t want a manager who is a robot.

    5. Diahann Carroll*

      I’m kind of where you are, Lemon Zinger. If OP wants to let her direct report know that it’s okay to take time off for mental health reasons, during their next one-on-one, OP can go over the leave policy and just note that mental health days are totally allowed on her team.

      1. Annony*

        I agree. Making it clear that sick days can be used as mental health days or that recurrent medical appointments can be accommodated without needing to provide details would be helpful. It does not need to be related back to the OPs experiences.

    6. SunnySideUp*

      Exactly what I came here to say.

      I don’t want to discuss it at work, and I don’t want to know about my manager’s health issues.

      1. qtippyqueen*

        Agree. If something comes up organically like mentioned above, cool. But if a manager sat me down and started talking about their mental health and sexual/gender identity struggles…I don’t know what I would say or think. Like, “Oh, uh, great….so do you need that TPS report today or tomorrow?”
        It would be so hard to respond! Do I need to relate back? Am I now your therapist? Now I am stuck thinking about your issues and my issues all together.
        To be fair, I don’t want to be friends with my boss. I want the time off I need approved. I don’t want to be questioned about doctor appointments. I want to be given feedback about my job and given the tools to do my job. Like, be a decent human to me, that is all I need from you. Maybe donuts sometimes too.

        1. Blue Anne*

          So many commenters seem concerned about this happening that I’m genuinely confused. I’m dealing with a lot of the same stuff the OP is talking about, and I’m open about it when it comes up, but I would never just awkwardly infodump on my intern so she knows it’s okay to take time off or whatever. I can’t think of anyone in my circles who would.

          Where is the assumption of the huge awkward overwhelming discussion of all personal info at once coming from? Has this actually happened to you?

          1. Mommy Shark*

            Honestly this seems like that phenomenon where straight people think queer people’s entire personality/identity is being queer, so they think it’s going to be constantly thrown in their face.

            1. qtippyqueen*

              I don’t think so, but I could see reading some of this, “keep it to yourself” and that kind of echoing that old idea of keeping people “in the closet” so to speak. Like, whatever you do is fine, just hide yourself from society because secretly it is shameful or some nonsense
              For me, it is more maybe that information dump idea, or just super personal information idea. Like, someone having a same sex partner, more than one partner, 15 sister wives, whatever it is, wouldn’t bother me. Y’all went on a picnic, cool. I am about that story.
              But having a coworker or boss that I have no deep friendship with tell me in detail about their mental health struggles, or gender identity struggles would be really awkward.
              Like Anon Lawyer mentioned above, it is about having proper social boundaries, and it is hard to pin down what that looks like because at work you are basically trapped with these people all day as a captive audience, so it can all get weird fast.

          2. qtippyqueen*

            It could absolutely be a personal hang up for me, I can accept that!
            I tend to be a very guarded, not sharing person at work. Not necessarily like the reality TV show trope of, I am not here to make friends! But, kind of! At the risk of sounding like a very cold person, I go to work to do a job. I want the conversations to be work related, or light and fluffy. Like, you and your family went to the beach! This TV show is really good! I like this coffee! Good game last night!
            But unless we are friends, I don’t really want to hear about a lot of life’s struggles for you. Doubly so with my boss.
            It isn’t like I would clutch my pearls at hearing someone is in therapy or hearing someone is taking a certain medication or having a hard time with mental health struggles. I have been there, I get it. I just don’t really want to get into the nitty gritty of your life at work.
            Even with friends! We can go to a bar and you can tell me everything about what is going on, and I am here for you however you want. At work? Let’s talk about that football game last night!

            1. Always Late to the Party*

              I think the point is that these topics, particularly about gender identity, *can* be brought up in a light and fluffy way and that’s exactly what OP should do if they want to normalize them.

              “Oh, you’re into Parks and Rec? My [same-sex] wife *loves* that show? Who’s your favorite character?” “Oh you like yoga? My therapist recommended I try it but I haven’t found any videos I like. Do you have any suggestions?”

              Now you know I’m queer and in therapy and the conversation stayed light and fluffy. I’m not asking you for anything in return. And if you happen to my queer-struggling-with-mental-health employee, you know that you do not need to hide these issues from you manager for fear of professional repercussions.

          3. Grapey*

            My “assumptions” are coming from OP, who said “I’m queer, I’m gender questioning, I go to therapy, I have ADHD, I take meds for both that and mental health stuff, etc. etc. It’s important to me to be open about those things and to model a “this is normal and okay” kind of attitude”

            Putting myself in the shoes of someone who might have OP as manager, I don’t want to hear about the meds and therapy. Tell me what pronouns you want, talk about about your SOs/kids, normalize taking time off for medical appointments, whatever – the personal medical stuff is the issue for me.

            1. Always Late to the Party*

              “Oh you do yoga? My therapist recommended I try it but I haven’t yet. Are there any yogi youtubers you particularly like?”

              Now you know I go to therapy without having to “hear about” my therapy.

          4. Oh No She Di'int*

            To be fair, I think the concern is less about the volume of information, the all-at-once aspect, and more about the focus of the information. I hear commenters mainly saying that if OP wants to have a conversation about their mental health issues, that goes over a line. But a conversation about how we’re going to hand off the TPS reports that includes some relevant mention of mental health issues seems fine.

            I think OP set the stage for this assumption by putting everything in the context of friendship and being friends/friendly. So one imagines confiding in someone about these personal issues the way you’d confide in a friend. I’m not saying that was the intention, but I can see how people could come away with that impression.

          5. Legal Beagle*

            I think I’m just getting stuck on the “why.” I’d definitely want to be informed of my manager’s preferred pronouns, but other than that, what else do I need to know and why? When managers overshare, it can make the report feel pressured to reciprocate, so I think managers have a responsibility to be careful about professional boundaries.

            As the manager gets to know the person better, if they develop a more personal relationship, then go ahead and share as it feels appropriate. But it seems like LW might be over-thinking how to share all this with a direct report, when it really needs to develop more organically — and the result may be that it’s never the right time to share more personal stuff, because that’s just not the working relationship they have.

            1. Always Late to the Party*

              To create a safe space for employees who may be worried their gender identity/mental health, etc. may hold them back.

          6. kt*

            There are a lot of letters about oversharing in the office: my colleagues keep talking about pregnancy and badgering me about the state of my uterus; my boss is of my old religion and is trying to bring me back into the fold; my boss wants us to do Enneagram readings and talk about them with the team; my boss starts every meeting with a mental health check-in; my boss wants us to include our Myers-Briggs in our email signature and reference it in conversation with them and colleagues; my boss is trying to get someone to donate a kidney; my boss is asking everyone’s blood type because they want everyone to donate because they can’t because (medical reason that not everyone needs to know about yet does); my boss had a yelling fight with her husband while on a Zoom meeting and now we’re all uncomfortable and worried about her; my boss wants to discuss their therapy with me because they think I have the same problem and ‘it could really help!’

            It is an advice column; most people came here because something was wrong at some point and they needed advice!

          7. Jaybeetee*

            I suspect it’s coming from the LW actually saying a those things at once in the letter (which was necessary to provide context, but might be leading people to think she’d just, like, introduce herself that way in other situations), plus the LW’s admission towards “oversharing”, and perhaps a dash of a general sense of wanting to be emotionally involved with her reports beyond the usual. Bosses tend to do better more towards the “detached” end of the spectrum. Mo one should be a jerk, but there are a lot of ways a boss getting too hung up on their colleagues’ emotional worlds can make things worse.

          8. EPLawyer*

            I think the concern here is the LW said they were an oversharer. I can see an oversharer wanting to be helpful and supportive doing exactly what is envisioned here — sitting their single report down and explaining everything to them so that the report understands how supportive they are. If the LW had more reports, I don’t think we would envision that happening because that is a lot more work. But when you only have one report and a problem with boundaries, you might not see it as a problem to schedule a 1:1 to discuss personal issues. That’s why we keep pointing out “Why are you telling me this? What do you want me to do with this info?”

          9. EchoGirl*

            Not the person you’re responding to, but actually, yes, I have a few people in my life who have a tendency to “info dump” at the slightest cue, to include way more details than are necessary, and so on. If that’s a familiar pattern for someone, seeing OP say “I want to tell my employees these things” could be read as “I want to tell them ALL these things, in detail, at the earliest possible opportunity”. (I didn’t totally read it that way, but I didn’t rule it out either.)

    7. Gaia*

      I think there is a difference between “overshare” and “share.” Letting it be known that it is acceptable and normal to have medical (whether that be physical or mental) health needs is a good thing for managers to do. And the best way to do that is to model that it is normal for it to sometimes come up in conversation.

      No one is suggesting managers get into intimate details, instead folks are just suggesting they not actively hide these parts of their life.

    8. Anxiety*

      I talk about anxiety at work including to the team I manage because it’s important to me to destigmatize. I’ve always made a point of doing it in a humorous way though so they don’t feel it’s anything to worry about. (“I was dreading that call… Turns out no problem at all. Thanks, Anxiety!”) I like to think me being open about that and keeping it light has helped in making my team comfortable talking about their own personal issues, which they are, and not feeling judged because ha ha, boss has anxiety and she doesn’t really care if anyone knows it.

      How did I get to this though? My OWN boss saying one day he was leaving early to go to his shrink. I think I mentioned the anxiety not long after because that comment made me feel comfortable, and we now chit chat all the time about various anxiety meds, and we sort of understand one another’s triggers better. It’s part of what’s led into us having a really great working relationship. Thanks, boss.

    9. AnonAmy*

      I think that oversharing is a problem, but matter-of-fact sharing can be helpful.

      My manager once told me that his absence the day before was due to taking an anxiety-related mental health day, after a stressful situation arose with one of his children. As someone who is no stranger to panic attacks, I really appreciated this; it conveyed to me that taking a mental health day was acceptable in our work culture, and that I would be met with understanding if I did the same.

      To link back to the original question, I think the line between oversharing and helpful sharing with respect to mental health is similar to what you would deem appropriate to share about physical health. If my manager had described his symptoms in great detail, or had started asking me questions about my own health, that would have been oversharing.

    10. Not today, Satin*

      At my place of work, the managers promote health issues without personal references.
      So my group has all been offered the opportunity to take Mental Health First Aid class, encouraged to participate in the Movember challenge, have sponsored teams to walk for various causes. The company sponsors employee groups – including one for parents of neurotypical kids.
      I don’t necessarily need to hear about co workers specifics about them, I just want to know the group is supportive of me.

  2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Following!! Any perspectives on how to destigmatize mental health while also helping people feel safe to establish boundaries is SO valuable.

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      One thing that could be an easy way to be supportive without offering a lot of additional information is to occasionally remind staff of the EAP, if your organization has one. I’ve mentioned it in both one-on-one meetings when I know a staff person had a recent major change (death of a parent in one case) and in larger staff meetings just to remind people that the option exists. When I do this, I am sure to stress the confidentially of our EAP and that only numbers, not names, get reported to the organization. I’ve also mentioned that I have use our EAP twice, once for a work-related issue (previous job, same EAP) and once for a personal issue and had a good experience with them. That’s exactly how I say it, no more info than that. I don’t say that every time, but I do feel like knowing I’ve used it could give tacit permission and a bit of “if Anne has used it and says it was helpful, maybe it’s not so bad” kind of way.

  3. elefant*

    This past summer my workplace has sponsored a bunch of diversity/equity/inclusion discussions around certain themes of race, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. In some of them, participants say things like “as a queer woman, I …” or “as someone with a chronic illness, …” etc. People have mentioned therapy, childhood trauma, queer identities, various learning disabilities, physical disabilities, health issues, etc. I didn’t necessarily know about these people’s identities or conditions before, but I thought that was a pretty natural place for these topics to come up and it made it clear to me that my workplace has many people with disabilities that are successful!

  4. Enescudoh*

    This is slightly more generic than the question asked, but my housemate recently told me about a colleague’s sharing that really helped her. This colleague leads their unit and wrote in a team newsletter how last week she’d been upset for days after a new silk face mask, hung up to dry, blew away. She talked about how she blamed herself and couldn’t work out why she was taking it so hard, until she realised it was a combination of how much stress they’d all been under, having an offer rejected on a house, and lots of other things all at once. My housemate loved this and felt it was super relatable.

    So I guess, keep it generic but relatable so they don’t feel alone but also don’t feel uncomfortable knowing too much about your life? But that may not work for what you want them to feel comforted by…

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I agree with this. I would be highly uncomfortable if my manager just started unloading all of her own personal struggles on me out of the blue. Something like this wouldn’t make me feel like I had to share myself or that I was expected to somehow react to the manager’s revelations.

    2. AnonGoodNurse*

      I was going to say something similar — share or talk about things in an impersonal way. Instead of speaking about it as her own experience, maybe talk about a “friend” or “family member” that went through. If the tone is neutral or warm, it helps break down any stigma, but would erase the discomfort that might arise as an “oversharing” manager.

      1. Reba*

        My work group had a nice conversation based on someone sharing an article about burnout and the extended strain of 2020. Having something to point to and respond to that was not the personal testimony of anyone present was helpful, I think. Even though the point is that it is relatable :) So we are pretty open, but general about when we are “hitting a wall today” or taking a mental health day.

      2. TechWorker*

        I know this comes from a good place but going with ‘a friend of mine…’ rather than admitting it’s you can basically only come from a place of stigma..?

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    In my opinion, normalizing these things means mentioning them in casual conversations where they are topical. “How was your weekend?” “Oh, I had a rough mental health day and spent the day in bed watching Golden Girls and eating cheesecake. How was yours?” That, to me, would not be over sharing, simply stating a fact and normalizing both mental illness and self care.

    On the flipside, don’t make it come cross like a Very Special Episode of an 80s sitcom.

    1. Annony*

      I don’t know. I don’t really want to know my boss had a rough mental health day this weekend. I would also feel pretty uncomfortable responding that my weekend was great after that. I think it is the wording. I wouldn’t be phased by “I’ve been stressed lately so I took the weekend to just chill, watch TV and eat cheesecake.” To me, “rough mental health” sounds much more serious. It would feel like someone say “I just found out I have cancer so I was looking up treatment options. How are you?”

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Right. This would be the exact thing that would make me feel highly uncomfortable and unable to respond, and I have OCD, so I get rough mental health days.

      2. Double A*

        Respectfully, this is the attitude that is reinforcing stigma around mental health. The way it will become destigmatized is if people can talk about it casually. Most mental health issues are not the equivalent of cancer, but because we talk about them in hushed tones, people think they are.

        And if your boss had cancer should they…not reveal that? I mean, maybe not in a “How was your weekend” conversation, but at some point they’re going to need to reveal something about it.

        1. Annony*

          I was trying to say that it isn’t really a casual conversation, especially not a casual conversation at work. It’s not that it can’t be talked about, but it isn’t really “how was your weekend” material. If my friend had that exact same conversation with me, I would 100% be open to it. But if my boss had that conversation with me I would feel really uncomfortable. I have had supervisors dump mental health problems on me before and expect me to act as their support system. It was not ok and it was not appropriate. This probably colors my perception.

          1. Aquawoman*

            But for people with mental health issues, sometimes it’s NOT a big honking deal to say, Oh, Saturday sucked for mental health reasons any more than it would be to say Saturday sucked because I had a killer cold. The fact that people respond in a way that is disproportionate to the message is a result of the stigma around these issues.

            1. Firecat*

              I’d be pretty uncomfortable with a casual work aquantince telling me they had a cold all weekend too. It’s not usually what people are asking about at work when they say “how was your weekend”.

              1. V V*

                Really? You’d be uncomfortable with someone saying “Oh, I caught a cold and was stuck in bed all weekend, luckily the local Chinese place delivers and has great soup! How about you, did you have a good weekend?” Come on.

                1. DQ*

                  Thank you! I’m so confused about people who apparently never say *literally* anything about their physical health. Last week I had a wicked migraine in the middle of the day and told the people I was on a call with (consisting of my peers and some of my direct reports) “hey guys, I’m logging off because I have a wicked migraine. I’ll check in later when I’m feeling better” Is that over-sharing? Really?

                  And I would love to get to the point where we can as casually say “oh wow, my anxiety just spiked for some reason. I’ll be back in an hour or so when I feel better”. It’s not like one relates to an area of the body that isn’t discussed (colonoscopy, anyone?) they’re both head issues!

                2. Firecat*

                  Yes I would find that awkward if you are V V the guy I send my TPS report too and I say “Hi V Did you have a nice weekend?” And you gave me the details above I’d be thinking … Why are you telling me this??? And would exit stage right as quick as possible. It’s an overshare unless we are work friends.

                  To me it’s like asking – how was your day? The expectation is benign pleasentries not that you are going to tell me details about a negative day.

                3. Firecat*

                  @DQ

                  Saying that I don’t want a casual work aquantance to give me negative details about their life when I ask “How are you? Having a good day?” Or any other widely accepted pleasantry is a far cry from *literally* never saying anything to anyone.

                  I was quite specific that this would be my reaction to a casual coworker discussion.

                  The answer is different for:
                  Work friends
                  IRL friends
                  Family
                  And frankly even virtual guildmates.

                  But yeah for a lot of people work is not the place they want to make friends. They don’t want to know a lot about their coworkers.

                4. merp*

                  @ Firecat: if you ask someone if they had a nice weekend, that’s really not the same as asking “how’s it going?” to my mind. That’s a bit more specific! And if you get all weird and awkward about me saying “actually I had a cold/wasn’t feeling well/etc so I just rested” then I would really wonder why you had asked about my weekend at all! People have negative things in their life sometimes – it’s inevitable. So if you don’t want to know, don’t ask.

            2. Karia*

              Objecting to a superior using you as an unpaid involuntary therapist is not a ‘disproportionate’ reaction.

              1. anone*

                Why is there absolutely no middle ground between “never offer any hint of being a human being with a human life” and “treat employees like unpaid involuntary therapists”? How thoroughly toxic is the average organizational culture that so many people are reacting like this?

        2. Oh No She Di'int*

          I mean, maybe not in a “How was your weekend” conversation

          Exactly, that’s the whole problem with this example. This isn’t really about a stigma on mental health, it’s simply that when someone asks their boss about their weekend, they are not asking for a medical report. I wouldn’t want the “in bed all day” answer any more than I’d want “spent all weekend having a severe asthma attack”. It’s not about stigma. It’s that time and place revelations about any significant health issue should be carefully considered and not treated as casual.

        3. Traffic_Spiral*

          Respectfully, no. Not all conversations are appropriate for the workplace, and some things belong more in the social sphere. Also, there is also the matter of the power imbalance between a boss and employee. If I decide I’m going to start talking about a lot of private stuff with my underlings, they aren’t going to feel that they can back out of that situation if it makes them uncomfortable. Same if I start asking intrusive questions of them.

          Your friends and family and social circle are who you can discuss that sort of stuff with. A workplace should veer more towards “your personal life and health issues are your private business and we support you in them without asking for details.” You keep boundaries in the workplace because these are people you are required to be around – not people you choose to be around. It requires a separate type of behavior.

        4. Firecat*

          I guess for me it’s like mentioning you had an upset stomach all weekend. It’s just not ideal?

          When people ask – how was your weekend? The answer at work is basically – fine and yours? They don’t actually want to know details most of the time.

        5. TechWorker*

          Right, if your boss was like ‘oh my weekend was a bit crap because I spent all Saturday in bed with a cold ‘ you wouldn’t be like ‘OMG massive overshare’

        6. clogerati*

          The comments to this are making me realize that so many people here would hate my workplace.

          “How was your weekend Clogerati?”

          “Oh BF and I went to the park on Saturday and had one too many mimosas so we spend Sunday on the couch watching Selling Sunset. Then we debated who was worse, Davina or Christine. How was yours?”

          But, at least these comments are giving me some insight into my new coworker who constantly complains about how everyone we work with doesn’t “speak professionally.”

          1. merp*

            Yeah, same, I am starting to feel like it must be really odd for me and my coworkers to… actually talk about our weekend when asked about our weekend. Apparently we’re just a bunch of oversharers? But I tend to think of it as, you know, being friendly and answering the actual question that was asked. I think there are questions that don’t usually get real answers (“How are you?” comes to mind) but the examples people are objecting to are super weird to me.

      3. Absurda*

        What about something like “well, I was planning to do my housework but my ADHD/anxiety/other issue got in the way so I ended up just relaxing and watching TV all weekend.”? I think the key is to be matter of fact about it just like you would if you said you spent the weekend with your kids or took your dog on a hike.

    2. AthenaC*

      Would it be helpful, as an intermediate step, to maybe not name a condition, but just say something like “I spent most of the weekend sleeping so I must have needed the break!”

      Maybe it will work to normalize self-care actions, and then we can move toward including mental health under that overall normalization umbrella, so to speak. If that makes sense.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Right now, especially, I think a lot of people have found themselves on the struggle bus at times, and I still think it’s tricky to talk about at the right level. Like, my “rough mental health day” is not due to clinical depression, but I don’t know about my colleagues.

    4. Bees Bees Bees*

      “How was your weekend?” is a polite conversation topic, and shouldn’t be taken so literally. That response is TMI, in my opinion.

  6. Vanessa*

    If you were my manager, I might want to hear these items in one of two ways (or both): during mental wellness awareness month (May) where we are hearing upper management talk about mental health via discussions in meetings and emails, or two: during any one on one where I specifically call out any feeling of mental unwellness. The first option I would imagine more of a “During this awareness month I’d like to destimatize mental disease and discuss my own career path while managing this condition ” – a general discussion that targets everyone in a broad and unassuming way. The second option, to discuss in a one-on-one would only be for supporting your direct report(s) in a sympathetic manner.

    I think that the younger generations are much more open and respectful of these ideas and won’t want to be beaten over the head with the messaging, and the older generations may be more cautious and would appreciate the discretion. But these are only my two cents, as I am not a manager!

    1. AGD*

      My experience matches this. I am in my thirties and work mostly with college students, who for the most part are completely open and nonchalant about mental health stuff. I’m only half a generation older than they are, and the difference relative to what I saw when I was an undergrad myself is astonishing (the few people who bravely spoke up about their issues were typically pummeled with ignorant, dismissive rhetoric about how this was supposedly a lack of resilience or some other character deficiency). It’s wonderful to see a lot of interest in awareness and mutual support. However, I agree that this means things are changing quickly, and that where the fine line is might vary with age. (At one point, one of my mentors ~30 years older told me that if I shared anything about my mental health with my current department chair, my career would probably be over. It really saddens me that there was a time ~30 years ago when this must have true in a lot of workplaces!) I typically talk about mental health issues in general at the beginning of a class I’m teaching. Later, I take my cues from my students. If a one-on-one conversation heads toward something I have specific experience with, I will share a little bit more for the sake of establishing common ground and possibly – if applicable – providing advice. To be sure, it’s not the same kind of relationship as the one between a manager and a direct report, but I mention this in case it’s helpful.

      1. old curmudgeon*

        I agree that many younger folks are more aware of mental health issues, and are more comfortable in general discussing them. At the same time, it can be a real eye-opener for a college-age adult to hear the subject discussed freely and out in the open.

        My sibling is a full professor in STEM, in one of the very hard sciences. A few years ago, they added a component to their introductory lecture for every course in every semester, where they briefly mentioned their own struggles with anxiety, and encouraged the students in the course to seek professional help if needed, emphasizing that seeking help for mental health carries no more stigma than going to a doctor for a sore throat.

        Then last year, after we lost a second cousin to suicide, my sibling changed the message to be more emphatic and forceful, basically saying “Do NOT DO this to people who love you – and there ARE people who love you. If you need help, seek it out. If you don’t know where to go, talk to me privately and I will help you connect with someone who can work with you.”

        The response was quite surprising. A number of students sought my sibling out to express surprise and gratitude for hearing that message in the context of a chemistry lecture, and indeed, one did ask for assistance in locating professional help.

        So I think in a classroom context, it can be called out specifically without waiting for the conversation to move organically to a topic that allows a segue into the subject, particularly with today’s crop of college students.

  7. Smithy*

    One piece about destigmatizing mental healthcare at work, I think can be done through efforts in destigmatizing healthcare overall. Therefore, if you’re ever out sick – modeling that you don’t need to share the nature of the illness or your care plan. And if it requires more extended shuffling of duties/responsibilities – focusing on that being done in support of your care plan.

    Similarly – taking time off for doctor’s appointments – weekly, quarterly, annually – finding ways to model that taking time to see a doctor is acceptable and encouraged in the workplace without sharing details. Making them all just “doctor’s appointments” means that there’s no line between less stigmatized appointments like the dentist and mental healthcare. Anything you can do to model both honesty about using time for healthcare, without detailing what it’s for I think is incredibly helpful in letting people build their own comfort on their own time.

    1. Christina D*

      This, very much. My current boss took “I have to have surgery – I’m fine, just need to take care of it” and never asked another question beyond timing and when I would be back. It felt respectful and supportive, and that’s all I want from a supervisor.

    2. Actual Vampire*

      This is a good point. LW’s report may not have the same needs/issues as LW, so focusing on mental health isn’t necessarily the best thing for the report. I’m the outlier young, queer person in an office of middle-aged people with families, and my boss doesn’t go overboard trying to show me she’s down with the young folks – she makes me feel comfortable the same way she makes everyone feel comfortable, by running an office where all employees’ needs are accommodated to the extent possible, whether it’s childcare or pet care or sick leave or whatever.

      1. Smithy*

        Absolutely – when it comes to the wide scope of medical realities, there are lots of issues that carry different dynamics of stigma or discomfort. So whether it is mental health specifically – or weight management, sexual/reproductive healthcare, G.I. care, etc etc. – different people have different levels of comfort in talking about those issues. And the space to just have a “medical appointment’ and that be the end of the discussion is hugely freeing.

        As a manager, it has made me more mindful in when to NOT talk about my own issues that I don’t mind sharing. For more junior reports, making it as clear as possible that I’m not able to see my dermatologist so often because I’m cool talking about my skin does not need that the next person needs to have the same comfort level talking about their IBS to get similar accommodation.

        Same things go for “family emergencies”. Single people with no kids can 100% have family emergencies without hearing about a marble up a kids’ nose.

    3. Sylvan*

      I agree. :)

      I think it’s good to share when you’re comfortable doing so and your colleagues are comfortable listening, but that’s not a situation you find every day. Supporting your employees in seeking healthcare, on the other hand, is common and impactful.

  8. Christina D*

    From the perspective of queer issues, it depends on the workplace, but I’ve found that other queer people are very attuned to things like a small Safe Zone magnet or sticker, or a cute rainbow pin on a bag, or “how was your weekend? I had a great time at Pride with some friends.” It doesn’t have to be super loud to be helpful to the people who need it, and it’s also a good way to feel out your employer’s reaction if that’s something you’re concerned about.

    1. Kodamasa*

      I think that’s a good strategy for all of the issues OP wants to support. Those who are dealing with said issue are more attuned to signs of them, and those that aren’t will likely miss them entirely and that’s okay.

      My boss is very good at supporting our mental health. I have no idea if she struggles with her mental health herself but she’s made it clear that our mental health is important. She’s done this by actively promoting our college’s Mental Health First Aid trainings and encouraging us to take time when we need it, among other things.

      A small Safe Zone or Pride sticker or an invitation to mental health resources can go a long way to making people feel seen and welcome without oversharing. Those who don’t need the resources will likely shrug and move on (if they even notice) and those who need the support will see it’s there.

    2. Blue Anne*

      Yes. Stuff like this is good.

      For that matter, I’ve had a straight colleague pick up on those types of things because his teenage daughter wanted to go to a Pride parade and he was worried about whether it was appropriate. We were work buddies and he asked if it would be okay to ask me some advice about it because he’d heard me mention an ex-girlfriend. We had a good conversation.

      Doesn’t need to be super loud. I’m a little confused by people assuming that super loud would be the first stop.

    3. old curmudgeon*

      Depending on the workplace, another way to get that message across can be adding pronouns to one’s email autosignature. There are unfortunately still a lot of workplaces where an email signature of “Old Curmudgeon (they/their)” would raise eyebrows, but if the OP’s workplace is open to it, that would be an effective way to signal.

  9. Sylvia*

    Hmm. I’m confused about how OP is wanting to de-stigmatize. I assume they mean just by being open about their own mental health? If I’m understanding that correctly, I have to agree with Lemon Zinger that it’s best not to do that with a direct report because it puts pressure on them to reciprocate. I don’t know what a better solution would be though.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      In general society tends to view mental health as a personal failing or personal weakness where as physical health is something that is understandable. For example, my sister is diabetic and has anxiety. The diabetes came first. She went to her boss and said “I was recently diagnosed with diabetes. I have to take a break at 2:00 every day to test my blood sugar and for the next month I need to leave to go for bloodwork on Thursdays during lunch”. Her boss was totally understanding, gave the “do what you need to do” spiel, blah blah blah.

      Several years later, while at the same company working for the same boss, she said “I was recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I started a new medication and once a month for the next 3 months I need to come in at 8:30 instead of 8 so I can get bloodwork done to monitor how everything is working.

      Her boss asked if she was sure it was anxiety, told her that people over medicate for that type of thing, she needs to just get outside more, and no, she couldn’t flex her time she’d have to take PTO (which has to be done in half day increments) for these appointments.

      Her boss’s reaction is not uncommon or at all weird in how people view mental health.

      1. Sylvia*

        I think this is a good example of how de-stigmatization should work, actually. Your sister could have just said she needs to come in at 8:30 once a month because she needs to have some medical testing done, and she most likely would have been approved without much thought. But she shared that it was for a mental health issue, which sends the message that mental health issues are just as important as physical issues. Of course, the boss’s reaction was not good. But I think it’s a step in the right direction. If everyone did this when they feel comfortable doing so, I think we can eventually get to a point where mental health problems are considered serious and important the way physical health problems are.

        1. ElizabethJane*

          But my read was this type of thing is exactly what the OP is looking for. The OP is trying to come up with ways to signal that she will not be like my sister’s boss.

          1. Sylvia*

            Okay. If that’s the case, then I understand your point and agree with you. I read it as OP wants to share their own mental health issues with their direct point, and I wasn’t cool with the power imbalance of that. That’s why I was a little confused as to what OP meant.

            1. ElizabethJane*

              I think the OP is asking how to organically bring it up in such a way that it feels natural and gets the point across without making people uncomfortable.

              For me personally that’s bringing up trivial bits of a diagnosis (for example) in natural conversation. I mentioned my coworker above but if it were a manager I’d think a conversation like this:

              Employee: How was your weekend
              Manager: Oh I recently started taking Zoloft for anxiety and it makes me so sleepy. I spent the weekend binging Netflix and eating icecream directly from the carton and honestly I feel so refreshed. I didn’t realize how much I needed a weekend to just go easy on myself. It was perfect! (said in a cheerful tone). How was yours?
              Employee: Busy. We had a family reunion and 17 other events so I’ll be living at the coffee pot this weekend.

              I wouldn’t feel like my boss was preachy or bombarding me. It’s an honest answer and it would tell me that if I had my own anxiety concerns my boss would likely be understanding and open to accommodating me.

              1. WellRed*

                “Oh I recently started taking Zoloft for anxiety and it makes me so sleepy.”

                I’d be a bit surprised if a generic question asked out of politeness garnered a response about prescription meds and a medical condition, but I think I’d roll with it.

                1. yala*

                  I mean, I just started taking Vyvanse last week, and it’s pretty much been all that comes to mind at the moment. (Stopped taking it as of today because it was NOT a good feeling, and it did nothing for my ADHD.) I’m not saying that I’d mention medication whenever asked, but in this case, with a new one that basically affected my whole week, I might, depending on the person.

                  (tbh, it’s probably something I’ll tell my boss at our weekly check-in, because it definitely affected my work this week)

                2. ElizabethJane*

                  In fairness my dialogue is chunky and awkward (this is why I’m not a writer) but my point was more there are ways it can come up in a conversation that aren’t “HI WELCOME TO TEAPOTS INC I’M YOUR NEW MANAGER I TAKE ZOLOFT AND I’M QUEER AND I HAVE BAD HEMORRHOIDS TOO” as the new employee walks through the door on day 1. Because apparently that’s what people are envisioning based on the OPs question.

              2. Oh No She Di'int*

                I guess I’m an outlier here, but I do not want to know about my manager’s Zoloft any more than I’d want to know about their Lipitor, their Prilosec, or their Cialis. Is there anything shameful about any of those things? No. But do I want or need to know that level of detail? Also no.

                1. ...*

                  Yeah good point. Just because something isn’t shameful doesn’t mean its not private. I feel like I run into this a lot now. Like, sex isn’t shameful, but I still don’t share the details of it with people, because that’s private.

  10. GigglyPuff*

    Honestly, and I’m not a manager but I agree with everything the OP said and also have ADHD and some other mental health stuff, and a decent workplace, I just randomly drop it into conversation. My own previous manager did this a few months after I started about their ADD, and other personal information, and it made me feel much more comfortable. I don’t think it has to be a big deal or entire conversations, especially in the beginning. But there’s nothing wrong with just casually bringing it into the conversation, maybe in non-work ways to begin, how ADHD impacted your weekend, or just “yeah I have a therapist appointment, I’ll be out”. So far no one’s been uncomfortable, had issues, and as a whole we’re a little more open about that stuff (but not in inappropriate boundary crossed ways) with people I know at work.

  11. Brooks Brothers Stan*

    Speaking as a cis man, I’ve always been very open about the fact that I have ADHD and talk to a therapist. I treat it, both to my peers, my reports, and my bosses as something akin to having to take advil for a sprained ankle or needing to go to physical therapy for the same. In my experience, treating things as if they are completely normal and not letting them seem as anything out of the ordinary has allowed them to be treated as such. I don’t need to go into details with the particulars of my personal situation in much the same way that I don’t need to go into particulars about my treatment plan for chronic knee issues.

    A fact of life is a fact of life, and treating it as such allows everyone involved to be comfortable with their own facts.

    1. alexis*

      I think that’s great! Our company just sent out an email about a BetterHelp (or what the online therapy service is called) subscription, and a very senior man replied-all saying “I did it and it was very helpful, all of you should take advantage of it too”. First time I”ve appreciated a reply-all!

    2. yala*

      I know all neurodivergent issues have stigmas attached, but man do I feel like ADHD is a BIG one in the workplace because of how specifically it affects so many work-related things. I wish other folks were more open to talking about it, especially at the upper levels, because there tends to be a low-key suspicion that you’re, y’know, faking, or just lazy or something.

  12. anon today*

    yay, OP, for doing this! If it comes up, I will typically share that the weekly doctor’s appointments on my calendar are for therapy, which helps normalize, but I don’t say what I’m in therapy for, which helps maintain boundaries.

  13. heydeeho*

    In addition to the great conversational advice, I think having office decor and physical signals of your attitudes can be helpful. You can include things in your office that signal you’re open to discussing these things, but also leave it open to your employees to start the convo and that are subtle enough not to make other employees uncomfortable.

    My old boss had a rainbow mug for a local LGBTQ+ org and a funny supportive of mental health poster up. It made me aware that these are topics I could discuss, and a gateway to discussing them “hey, I like your poster..”, but didn’t feeling intrusive.

    1. Your queer employee*

      Agree! As a queer, gender-identity questioning employee with significant mental health challenges, I am always in the lookout for any little signs that someone is knowledgeable and actively supportive of these things. When I find them, I’m pathetically grateful because it is SO hard and scary to constantly be obsessing about whether I’m doing well enough in my job and whether people will figure out about the mental health stuff and judge me for it.

    2. Alara*

      I would love to hear more about little gateways and signals that can be used now that we’re all virtual! My safe space magnets don’t show up on Zoom.

      1. Dino*

        Add your pronouns to your Zoom name if you want to show support for the LGBTQ community! I put mine in the last name field after name. Plus it’s just good info to have when meeting with people who you haven’t met before.

    3. Marna*

      That’s the approach I’d like a manager to take as well. Like, it’s just a thing, on roughly the same level as that time a boss of mine broke their leg.

      Actually work-relevant: what overall effect the broken leg would have on work while it healed, specific asks like “I wouldn’t normally expect you to do this thing for me but I think I’ve walked as much as I should today”, that sort of stuff.

      Not work-relevant but fine as chat: it happened rock-climbing, they thought he was gonna need a helicopter, it was a whole big adventure, also Squamish is great.

      Definitely not work-related OR fine: bringing in the x-rays, endless complaining or grim detail about the ongoing daily physical and mental suck of having a fracture. (which I know because I’ve had some myself not because he did this)

      A manager saying things like “I have to leave on time today because therapy” or “grapefruit doesn’t play well with my meds” or even, if discussing an employee’s difficulty “Yeah, my therapist said something once that was super helpful to me about (perfectionism, distraction, mental health days, something actually work-related) would be my ideal. That kind of casually treating gender and orientation and mental health as just ordinary facts about being a person with a job to do, while having the same kind of boundaries you would about anything personal is, to me, how you normalize something well.

      1. Clumsy Ninja*

        Unless of course you work in a medical profession, in which case we all share our x-rays or pictures of wounds. ;) I pride myself on at least asking first if people want to see “gross” (not TMI-type, mind you!) pictures before I show them on my phone.

  14. animaniactoo*

    Honestly, I think the way to do it is to wait for the subject to come up naturally – there will always be a moment. And then reference your own issues lightly. There will be conversations about people who have such issues in general or a specific other person, and you can say something along the lines of “This is an issue I’ve struggled with myself, one of the things a lot of people don’t realize is _____” and then move the subject along WITHOUT continuing to focus on your own struggles. That drops it into the category of “fact about me” without “sharing my personal history and struggles”.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      +1

      I think this is the best way to handle it, in addition to modelling taking time off as needed and the other practical steps that signal support that other commenters have mentioned. Don’t schedule a meeting to Have A Discussion on Mental Health, but if and when there’s a moment when it makes sense to reference it, don’t censor yourself. Many queer people in generally supportive workplaces come out this way – mentioning that you did something with your same-gender spouse, or something about an ex – and it works quite well.

      One example: in my office, every fall an email goes out about ordering calendars for the following year. That might be a time you mention to your direct report that whatever planners and organizers she needs can be ordered, too, and that “with my ADHD I’ve found that having one nice notebook to keep tabs on makes all the difference, so I get the Moleskines since they’re pretty durable even though they’re more expensive. If there are any tools you need to do your job well, go ahead and send the details to Jane even if they’re more expensive than what’s in the supply closet.” And then move on, without discussion.

    2. Kodamasa*

      I disagree with the thought that the subject will come up naturally. It will for some, sure, especially if you’re an open and approachable boss. But some people will see the power dynamic and feel as if they can’t show any weakness or anything out of the norm, or that they’ll be seen in less-than-stellar light and their work life will suffer. I’m also willing to bet there’s a lot of cross-over between these people and the people who are afraid of asking for help even when they really need to. I think that second group especially would benefit from clearly displayed acceptance and support.

      I do like your script for when things do come up naturally, though. I’m stealing that!

      1. animaniactoo*

        I think you missed that I was saying that this stuff does tend to come up naturally – about other people, not either of them themselves. And it doesn’t have to be a comment or conversation directly with that person. It can come up in a group conversation and be addressed in the same way provided that the group is small/casual enough to make the point without significantly disrupting the conversation to do it. And even in larger groups, it can be valuable, but you need to judge how much you want to put yourself forward there.

        1. Kodamasa*

          That made sense. I understood your comment as “People (employees/reports) will speak up if they need help” which isn’t always the case. Some people are always aware and wary of that power dynamic. But I agree that bringing up things casually like your EAP suggestion would be a natural way for a supervisor to bring up the topic without any pressure.

      2. reject187*

        I would push back lightly and say that these things do come up naturally, especially if my manager models it as being no big deal or a regular part or life and career. The key, I think, is what animaniactoo said about referencing – BRIEFLY – your own related issue then moving on. If you set it up as a non-issue, your reports will hopefully see it that way too.

      3. kt*

        Maybe the fine line is that as the boss you can create a natural way to bring it up. I did this as a teacher a lot — create a natural discussion aimed at normalizing a problem I knew would come up. For instance: “The first midterm is coming up. It’s your first exam in graduate school, and it’ll be a level up from undergrad. In my experience, about 60% of the class gets a grade significantly lower than they expect. I would love you all to ace it! Given that that doesn’t usually happen, here’s how we’ll deal with a disastrously low grade: ….”

        The boss equivalent: “I wanted to finish up this meeting by telling you about our EAP. I know that this is a tough time for many, between the pandemic and the fires and (whatever) — it certainly has been tough for me. Here are the resources that we provide as a company….”

    3. Lily Rowan*

      I have had something come up naturally in a way that was mortifying all around — a coworker said something about her “OCD” in the light way people use it (and this is why they shouldn’t do that!!!!) and our new boss was like, “Oh, you have OCD too? :) :)” And coworker had to be like, oh, no, I’m just obsessive about [whatever it was], I don’t actually have OCD….

  15. Jessi*

    It’s all about how you bring these things up.

    The way I see it friends & same-level colleagues are for when you’re going through something/need emotional support. Direct reports can and should still hear that you’re human, but it should be in the “here are the facts” sort of way. For example, I’ve brought up my ADHD with direct reports very matter-of-factly when describing something I struggled to overcome in the past, especially as it relates to career growth: “Organization was really tough for me early in my career, in part due to my ADHD, and I figured out x, y, and z system to help with it.”

    Or, I’ve talked about depression and sexuality during non-crisis times, kind of in the way you did in the letter: by saying, these things are part of who I am, and I believe it’s important to be able to talk about them at work sometimes.

    In my mind, it’s similar to being a parent: you want your kid to see that negative emotions, struggles, and hard things happen, but you don’t want them to think they have to bear the weight of that. You can acknowledge their existence matter-of-factly while saving the emotional support for people on your level.

    1. Atalanta0jess*

      This is such a good comment. YES. I think that’s the boundary. You can mention facts about yourself, but you don’t mention current needs you have. If you talk about your mental health, it’s not in the context of “something I’m struggling with” – it’s in the context of “something I manage.” (Even if it’s a current struggle, I think it’s similar to the “i have this health issue, nothing to worry about but I need to do x, y, z to get it under control” type of thing.)

      I think casually mentioning therapy appointments rather than leaving it generic, for example, is a good way of doing this.

    2. technicolourbrain*

      Thank you for this. I was reading a lot of previous comments hoping to find a way that I might, in the future, be open about having ADHD, and it was really flipping discouraging (a whole lot of “I don’t want to hear that”!). My ADHD changes how I work, and also how I process information (if you need me to remember something, don’t just tell me, write it down). I’d love to be open about it in the future, but it’s scary.

      1. Sister Michael*

        I’m working through this too! I needed to disclose to my boss, because we drug test at work and I wanted to make sure I had proper documentation before my next random test.
        I admit, I had it easy because my boss is very kind and easy-going but I still put some serious thought into how to do it and here’s what I came up with that I felt worked really well.
        I said: “Hey, Fergus, do you have a minute?” [Walked in, closed the door, say down.] “So, I was recently diagnosed with ADHD- That’s a good thing and I’m happy to have the i formation! But I know my medication is going to show up on a drug test. What do I need to do to get that documented?”

        Here are things I felt helped make that successful:
        1) I kept it simple. The goal was to give him the information, not share my complex feelings about how late diagnosis affected me or whatever. He’s a great boss, but we’re not casual buddies. I wanted to respect that boundary.
        2) I told him, briefly, how I felt about it (positive!) so that I was setting the tone for the rest of the conversation and so he didn’t have to guess at whether I was upset and he should reassure me my job was safe (or whatever) or embarrassed and needed to be reassured of his discretion.
        3) Asked the relevant question. I didn’t tell him just to tell him, it came up in a context. My context was making sure I filled out the correct disclosure forms, but yours might be something like, “Mind if I grab a pen and paper before get any farther into the planning? I’ve got ADHD and I’ll be able to follow up best if I take notes.” Or whatever, you know what situations you’re in where disclosure is necessary.

        But like a lot of other things, it just seems to me like disclosing for the sake of disclosure is the thing that makes other folks uncomfortable, because they don’t know what to do with the info. My ADHD has come up other times- once when I was discussing with some peers a situation where one of the team leads was chronically late and it was affecting our work pretty seriously I commented that I understood how time management can be a challenge, because I have ADHD and I’ve struggled with it myself. That was also no big deal, in part because my colleagues didn’t think there needed to be a stigma, but also because it came up with sufficient context that they didn’t feel like they needed to react to my ADHD specifically.

        Others’ mileage will vary, and you know your office, but I do think there’s a huge gap between “never bring it up” and “freely disclose to everyone asap” and most of us live in that gap every day. Finding the sweet spot and doing the right thing is a total chore sometimes, though!!

    3. AnonAcademic*

      Great comment. The power differential is such that while I can support an employee having mental health issues, they should not have to support me through mine. It’s a hard part of being the boss but also part of the job description. My support comes from my supervisors, health team, spouse, and friends and other people I don’t have hiring/firing power over.

  16. MissGirl*

    I trained as a CASA, which is a person who visits and befriends a child in the system. Someone asked in training if it would be appropriate to tell an older child about their own struggles with mental health to help relate to the child’s struggles.

    They said usually not. When you start sharing your own issues, it becomes about you and not the child. And the child may feel some responsibility to support you. Just be the person whom they can trust to share these things with.

    I would say something similar about your issues. There might be a time and place to share things like therapy and mental health but be very judicious. Just be the kind of manager whom they can communicate to.

    After all if you had no mental health issues would that make you any less a good manager? What if they have a chronic health condition? Obviously you can’t relate but you would hopefully still have their back and give them the ability to work with it. Make it about them.

    1. Public Sector Manager*

      A brilliant comment and the best advice so far!

      I’ve been managing for 10 years and I don’t need to overshare my personal issues to be supportive of my team. If someone on my team says that they have mental health issues, and they need some time off, all I have to say is: “How much time off do you need?” To be a supportive boss, I don’t need to share that my wife has major depression, anxiety, avoids therapy, doesn’t consistently take her meds, and self medicates with wine and cigarettes.

      And MissGirl, thank you for working with CASA! I’ve been practicing law for 25 years, and I’ve always amazed at the work CASA volunteers do. Universally, an amazing group of people!

      1. Kiwi with laser beams*

        “If someone on my team says that they have mental health issues, and they need some time off“

        The thing is, as someone who needed regular time off for therapy a while ago, I didn’t feel able to disclose that it was for mental health stuff, even vaguely, because I didn’t know how my boss would react. I’ve faced some shitty attitudes about mental health problems so I’m not going to assume off the bat that a boss who’s said nothing is a boss who won’t have stigmatising attitudes about it. Nobody is *obligated* to share anything about their mental health, but with stigma so rampant, you can’t assume that mentally ill employees will be as forthcoming as your example.

  17. Dadolwch*

    OP, does your organization have any committees or groups committed to promoting diversity and equity? Adding your voice to any such group would likely be a great way to open up the dialogue about LGBTQ and mental health issues, if they are not already on the radar. If such a group does not exist yet, perhaps you could help start one?

    Given the political dynamics of any workplace, I think it’s wiser and more effective to find allies you can work with to promote this kind of equity work. Going it alone unfortunately creates a higher risk of you being seen as a boat-rocker. I’d focus less on speaking with the employees you supervise and look at how you can help create some systemic change.

  18. Sue*

    I have seen 2 recent examples of this at work, not identical but similar and 2 different outcomes. With one, a male boss, the reaction was sympathetic and didn’t seem to have any negative repercussions. The other, female, brought out a lot of negatives. I was never sure (she’s gone) how much was her openness about her issues and how much may have been from other factors but it was sad to see.

  19. lb*

    I’m coming from the world of tech, which is definitely more casual than other industries but I think she can mention some of these things (therapy! ADHD!) about herself the way she’d mention any other detail about her life, like walking the dog or running errands, as boring & mundane things. Part of de-stigmatizing means talking about this as a part of every day life, not only hush hush in meetings. Other things (like gender identity, or meds) might only make sense to mention in context since they wouldn’t necessarily come up in the course of every day conversation. Maybe this is something she can also work with HR on as part of a larger project? One of our VPs was sending weekly dispatches on the struggles of working from home, being a parent, etc during a lockdown, and a lot of people found it extremely helpful. A newsletter folks can opt-into might be very well received.

  20. Mommy Shark*

    I’m a queer cisfemale married to a man. I never announce it or come out, but I also don’t edit my conversations. For example, a coworker was talking about his friend who was from Trinidad and I just said, “oh I dated a girl in college from there!” If you make it so casual it doesn’t require a thought that’s the best way to normalize it, imo.

    As far as mental health goes, I have postpartum anxiety and also generalized anxiety. I’m on Zoloft now. I am not shy, especially as I’m recently returned from maternity leave since everyone was asking how it went, in saying “oh yeah recovery was tough because of PPD/PPA, but I’m better now that I’m on Zoloft. What a game changer!”

  21. sequitur*

    As another queer, gender non-conforming new-ish youing-ish manager with one younger direct report (glad to hear there’s more than one of us out there!), the way I’ve generally handled this is by being open but non-specific.

    I’m fortunate that my employer is mental health literate, and we have training for managers and additional support tools available. I’ve made sure to tell the person I manage that these things are available and I can talk more about them or suggest places where they can find help if they need it. I’ve also mentioned, non-specifically, that I’ve had my own mental health challenges in the past and that I’m really open to those conversations and very unlikely to stigmatise them if that’s something they want to talk about. I haven’t gone into detail on specific diagnoses or experiences, apart from very briefly acknowledging a past eating disorder (as the person I manage has a sister who had anorexia when she was younger and it came up naturally in a conversation about another colleague who was taking leave for anorexia treatment).

    As someone whose primary issues were caused by an abusive & neglectful childhood, I feel it’s really important that I don’t have to pretend I had a happy early life, and I really felt you when reading your letter on how suffocating the idea that you’re supposed to pretend you had a nice, normal happy life up until now for fear of looking unprofessional or alienating the majority of people who have had happy, normal lives can be if that hasn’t been your reality. I’ve also had bad experiences in the past when disclosing even a small amount of detail about this (e.g. a very senior manager at my company once told me my childhood couldn’t possibly have been abusive as I went to a very prestigious university, ergo in his mind that automatically meant I must have had supportive parents [rather than the truth, which is that I clawed myself out of a hellhole through significant effort and academic rigour without much meaningful family support]).

    In short, I won’t pretend those bad things didn’t happen to me but I also won’t go into huge detail with coworkers on what the long-term effects have been on me (both diagnoses and behaviours/things I struggle with), as that’s my preferred balance. I want to be true to myself; I spent the earliest years of my career feeling like this stuff had permanently tainted me in ways that it was almost a holy duty never to talk about lest I be judged, but I’ve done a lot of therapy since then and think it’s healthier to try to integrate that stuff into my selfhood rather than forever pretending it didn’t happen. At the same time, I want my coworkers to think of me as “person who is competent and professional”, maybe with a tiny side of “and happened to have a rought start in life”, but I don’t want to make professional conversations awkward by talking in great depth about my trauma, or have colleagues only ever think of me as the person who didn’t feel safe or loved in the house they grew up in.

  22. Dasein9*

    One way is to remind people to use their vacation time, stressing the importance of rest and leisure on mental health as policy, not as individual need. So, instead of “I struggle with mental health issues,” normalizing it as “Taking the occasional day for rest is healthy,” as a commonsense thing, like “Eating a balanced diet is healthy,” can help keep personal boundaries in place while also destigmatizing mental health issues.

    We have a tendency in the West to assume everyone is in good health and able-bodied whenever we don’t see an obvious disability, so adopting the assumption that the people in the room probably do have disabilities and divergences from perfect health would go a long way too. It shows up in phrasing and how we interact with each other in ways that are hard to put a finger on but make a difference.

    1. Kiwi with laser beams*

      As someone who’s needed time off for therapy, I do still benefit from taking time off for rest, but that doesn’t destigmatise clinical mental health issues. When I started therapy, the problem wasn’t about using my time off allowance; it was the fact that I felt less able to talk about what I was dealing with, even in passing, than when I had some physical health problems the year after. As I said in another comment, nobody’s obligated to share about their mental health problems if they don’t want to, but if your aim is to get rid of mental illness stigma, the conversation needs to talk about mental illness specifically.

  23. CC*

    I think you can do this more structurally without sharing your personal details! I always tell my staff right when they start that our benefits package includes mental health benefits and we are 100% supportive of our staff using them, that it’s totally legit to use sick time for mental health appointments, etc. I’ll even include lines like “I’m so grateful we have such a strong culture around mental health care — it’s something I’ve taken advantage of personally.” I also include info about our equity and inclusion practices, including who to talk to if they’re experiencing bias based on their identity (and we have good answers for that other than “anonymous HR person”). And I spend a ton of energy building the kind of trust and relationships with my staff where they feel safe telling me when something’s going on, without making it a social thing.

    Of course, that requires a culture that is supportive of mental health wellness and inclusive practices. As a new manager, it might be a better use of energy to push for those cultural shifts within the company — creating structures where your direct report can thrive — rather than sharing your personal experience.

    1. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced BOUQUET)*

      I like this approach. Stressing ways that your institution supports mental health, gender identity, etc. is very powerful. A lot of companies pay lip service to inclusion and then you find out it’s one committee that sends out an informational email a few months a year. Actual support and action by your institution means a lot more to me than one manager who gets it.

      Find ways to weave mentions of this support into your job. For example, when a new person joins your team, send out an email to everyone with a reminder about the benefits, what they cover, and that sick time is available for medical, dental, and mental health appointments (or whatever is true in your org). Look for opportunities to integrate diversity into your team, organization, promotional materials, and even any examples or sample documents.

      As you can see in the first thread, there’s a lot of debate over when people feel comfortable with a manager sharing their personal experiences regarding more sensitive topics surrounding mental health, gender identity, reproductive history, etc. Taking into account a lot of these opinions, I would argue that the best practice seems to be to speak in general terms when appropriate and for less sensitive aspects, I would weave them in where natural. There’s a real difference between matter-of-factly stating your pronouns are they/them versus having a discussion about navigating gender identity in the workplace.

      I would save more personal sharing for one-on-one meetings when it seems immediately relevant and like it would actually be helpful to the listener. For example, I was really struggling as an intern last year because my office mates were all being openly ableist and saying they hated disabled people. I am a disabled person but it isn’t immediately visible, and my attempts to tell them I was upset by their statements fell on deaf ears. A senior manager was walking by and heard me trying to talk to them. He spoke to me privately to voice his support for me, and that he would support me in talking to HR because this wasn’t okay. I shared with him that it was so difficult for me to speak up because I didn’t want to out myself as disabled. I fear professional retaliation because our industry is conservative. He shared his own disability status and how the firm had accommodated him for years to the point he was now a senior manager. This was HUGELY important to me because I was at the point of withdrawing from the program because I felt so unsupported. Seeing and hearing from someone like me who succeeded was what I needed to get through the summer.

      I don’t think learning about his disability and accommodations would have been as impactful to me if it has been dropped in casual conversation. Yes, we need to normalize talking about mental health but also keep some boundaries at work.

  24. Anonya*

    Ooooh, I don’t know how I feel about this. While I agree that mental health should be de-stigmatized, I still question how much openness is appropriate in a professional environment. I think you can encourage very practical things that support mental health: taking time off when needed for doctor’s appointments, making it possible for people to take their vacation time and decompress, and if you become aware of a potential issue, directing your report to EAP. But as a manager, I do NOT want to burden my reports with the knowledge that I struggle with anxiety and depression. For one, I don’t want my decisions/actions to be viewed with that lens, but also? It doesn’t feel appropriate for them to know that. And as someone being managed, I do NOT want to know about my boss’s struggles except in the most general sense. IDK, OP, I think you have to tread very lightly. Some people would probably appreciate openness, but others will feel very, very uncomfortable.

    1. Kaitlyn*

      So last year, during a meeting with my boss, I mentioned that my meetings need to happen in the mornings if she wanted a 2+ hour block of time with me – I had daycare coverage from 9 AM to noon, so that’s when I had the blocks of time. She came back to me with the statement, “We all have people we need to take care of, and I’m not going to play ‘hierarchy of care’ with you.” But really, in my part-time, flextime job, afternoon meetings weren’t an option, and her disinclination to see me as a person with a personal life, an external-to-work life, made me feel very sour.

      I think if I was in your shoes, I would frame the information both systematically and personally. Highlight what benefits your organization offers for mental health support and LGBTQ employees as part of the onboarding process and as they arise (this package offers X number of sick days, which also include mental health support days; we celebrate Pride in XYZ way; your partner is invited to the annual holiday party, etc); and also offer the same kind of top-level info that you might share with your own boss (I have ADHD so I need files coded a certain way; I have a standing therapy appointment on Thursdays so I’ll be out after four PM; my partner will be joining us on the company fun run, my pronouns are he/him when I wear the black bracelet and they/them when it’s the white one, whatever).

      This info package might also include things like how the org handles childcare obligations, caring for sick or aging family members, any food allergies, accessibility issues, flextime related to health needs, and whatever else. The info isn’t necessarily “I access this and so can you” but “I am comfortable discussing this as it arises, and you won’t be punished or sidelined for being a person instead of an employee.”

  25. DashDash*

    I’m autistic and deal with a handful of overlapping mental health concerns. Within the last year, an executive-level employee at my company shared that they are neurodivergent, and it was such a relief to hear. If someone high up in leadership can recognize that these traits aren’t bad, and they understand the experience to at least some degree, it makes me feel much safer about asking for what I might need without being penalized or ostracized.

    Now, if they’d said “I have A, B, C and take 4 medications and even then I feel like…” it would have been really different. But the acknowledgement that these differences are out there and . . . not universally MISunderstood in a workplace, is really comforting.

    1. Your queer employee*

      Agree! Any acknowledgement that neurodiversity exists and other people are ok with that is a big relief.

  26. anonymous slug*

    Overall I don’t go into a ton of detail about my personal issues, but if someone else volunteers something, I may reveal something in an empathetic way. I have not and do not plan on disclosing some of my own mental health issues, but I have talked about things like not being able to sleep due to stress.

    A few things I’ve done as a manager:
    – Helped to create an ERG to show that I belong to a marginalized community you might not realize I am in
    – When there was a rash of celebrity suicides, made a statement about the resources available and reinforced that everyone on my team is important and I am available to them
    – Casually mentioned therapy (not to everyone, but in a one on one setting when it felt appropriate)
    – Especially during the height of the pandemic crisis, had conversations about ways to cope, and made sure my management team supported their reports. I talked a little more personally about this and what I was trying to do to help my own mental health
    – Encouraged the team to take PTO
    – Had open forums about any hot topics where I provided conversation starters and then tried to listen (and take action on topics the team brought up)

    It’s a fine line. I never have wanted to appear that I’m falling apart (even if I was!) or cause anyone to worry about me, since I feel that it’s my responsibility to be supportive of my team.

  27. BlueberryFields*

    Interesting question. I am queer woman in my mid 20s who reads as “straight.”(Not the best way to describe it, but you get the idea.) As someone who checks a few of the same boxes (in therapy/mental health issues) I recognize the importance of normalizing these things.

    I would rather see my manager treat these things as “normal” (which may be what LW already does) and mention their partner (if applicable) or even openly mention a therapy appointment (probably matters what field LW is in) as a reason to be out of the office.

    However, I think there is still a line that needs to be drawn between friend and manager. Are you sharing this with me because I have told you I have a female partner? Are you sharing the same information with everyone? At the end of the day, I need my manager to be my manager. You don’t want to undercut your credibility in the office by oversharing.

    If your office has a LGBT steering committee or diversity task force or something like that, you may want to consider joining. This could allow you to help contribute to real, long-term change in your office, while also signaling that you are a person who is open about some of these things.

  28. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — First, let me just say that your heart’s in the right place. But the fact that you’re the boss makes this situation trickier that it would be with peer co-workers. You really don’t want your direct report to feel that you’re dumping TMI on her, or implying that she’ll be judged if she doesn’t respond in a certain way. You say you’re naturally open and chatty, so it may be hard to imagine that somebody might think, “She says she has ADHD. Ummm, OK, what am I supposed to say in response?” But a lot of people do, especially when there’s a
    difference in power involved.

    Your best bet is probably to just be matter-of-fact and deal with things as they come up in the normal course of work. “I have an appointment with my therapist every Wednesday afternoon. If you need to be out on a Wednesday, be sure to let me know in advance so I can find somebody to cover.” In other words, don’t avoid the real facts of your life, but don’t do an information dump on a subordinate.

    Best of luck to you!

  29. Anon for this*

    I work/am a manager at a nonprofit that prioritizes self-care and has open discussions about secondary trauma and such due to the nature of our work, so not all of this might be applicable, but what works for me is sharing the facts but not necessarily all the details. I have severe depression, and my team knows that I see a therapist, but they don’t know why. Similarly, I’m open about the secondary trauma I’ve suffered in the past and how I handled it. It’s really important to me to create a culture where it’s not unprofessional to be human, and that means leading by example.

    I never, ever push people to share more than they want to, but I want them to know that I won’t think less of them if they do.

    I think mentioning these kinds of things in passing/casually makes a lot of sense and then you can share a little bit more if it seems appropriate as your working relationship with your direct report develops.

    I’ve also had managers who have shared their depression diagnoses with me (after I talked about it with them) and it made me feel more comfortable and understood. So in my experience from both sides of those conversations, I think the factual information is helpful to combat the stigmas but I wouldn’t provide too much more detail than that.

  30. Alexissss*

    Like so many others have said, I don’t know that I necessarily would want to know these things about my manager, but it would be helpful in certain context. Making sure employees know mental health days are good to take is important IMO, and being understanding of health circumstances (mental/physical/or otherwise) is also a good thing. For me, I just want to know my manager is supportive of what’s happening in my personal life without me (or them) sharing any specific details.

  31. catwhisperer*

    I think the best way to handle this would be to model how you want to see your employees handle mental health in the workplace. Leadership at my company has done this really well in two specific ways:

    1. My manager sends out a weekly top of mind e-mail where she details what she’s focusing on during the week. Sometimes she’ll note that she’s taking a mental health day and give us a deadline to get her information or ask questions to ensure we have the info we need while she’s out. She does it the same way as notifying us that she’s taking a sick day or PTO, but explicitly stating that it’s a mental health day in a matter of fact way sends the message that it’s totally normal and acceptable for us to take mental health days too.

    2. Leadership in my company actively encourages us to take our PTO and ensure that we’re taking care of ourselves, especially during the pandemic. They explicitly state in department- and company-wide messaging that it’s important to them that we are able to take care of our mental health and then follow through with those statements by helping people take PTO and shift responsibilities if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

    The key thing here is that mental health is treated in the same way as physical health – no one goes into explicit detail when it’s not necessary and leadership encourages staff to utilize company benefits without freezing up and referring them to HR every time mental health is mentioned.

  32. Colorado*

    Unless it’s directly related to my job or my manager’s job as being a manager, I really don’t need to know their sexual or gender orientation, or their medical history. It’s just… none of my business. We’re not friends, family, or medical professionals. If it came up in general conversation such as my partner x and I did this over the weekend or I have a doctor’s appointment today that is fine. But I really don’t see the need to push that information or overshare unless it’s relevant to the job my manager is supervising me for. Now, if my employee was begin discriminated against for gender, race, medical reasons, then I would advocate for them but my personal information is not relevant to that.

    1. Elbe*

      Yeah, I just don’t know how “I consider myself gender-questioning” would come up in a standard manager-employee relationship. It’s such a private, internal thing that doesn’t affect the job at all.

    2. SW*

      Wait, do you not know any of your managers’ or co-workers’ genders? Whether they’re men, women, or non-binary? And you think it’s oversharing if a manager or co-worker references their gender? That’s strange to me.

      1. voyager1*

        Knowing what pronouns to be addressed as is one thing. Being told they don’t know what pronouns they want to be addressed as seems so weird to me.

        I too could careless about someone being queer. I don’t need to know about your meds for mental health or what therapist one goes too.

        I personally would caution the LW into not sharing any of these things. Not everyone is going to be welcoming of her openness. Instead it will be:
        Boss: forgets to do a report
        Coworker: Guess her ADHD is flaring up

        Boss: Appears sad/depressed/angry/etc
        Coworker: Guess she has not seen the therapist

        Boss: Acts weird
        Coworker: Guess she has not taken her meds.

        Y’all get the idea. Not everywhere or everyone a safe place or sympathetic person.

      2. Coco*

        If it is something actionable, I def want to know. If you want me to prefer to you with a specific pronoun, please tell me.

        But a statement like ‘I consider myself gender questioning ‘, I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t expect anyone to state their gender to me any more than I need to know their marital status or number of siblings unless they want me to do something.

      3. Colorado*

        No SW, of course I’d know their genders and use their preferred pronouns, I meant the gender questioning statement. That’s really none of my business. Just let me know how you want to be addressed, not that your questioning that internally.

  33. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I had kind of the opposite happen. I was a senior member of the team and pretty open about my anxiety issues, especially when I was coaching junior team members on things like client discussions and presentations. I also had a BAD breakup that resulted in a very visible acute depressive episode and I had to approach my boss with, “Hey, I’m depressed, this is what I need.” We had a very good, very open relationship. My openness led to him asking me about therapy and whether he should try it. He did, and it turned out to be a very good thing for him, though the end of my tenure coincided with a pretty bad episode on his part and we had to rebuild our formerly strong relationship after he had his medication adjusted.

    I think the key is that I didn’t discuss a lot of the specifics, just mentioned that I went to therapy (“My therapist told me about a restaurant in Queens that sounds really cool”), said things like, “I deal with some anxiety that affected my work in X ways, so I did Y about it,” and tried to model compassionate behavior. I also flat out told my team they could come to me if they were feeling nervous or upset and we would work it out and I told stories of how senior people did that for me. The line, for me, is between sharing in a way that invites openness and sharing in a way that indicates you expect others to share too. The former, great. The latter, very much not great.

  34. Lizy*

    While I can’t speak to the queer or gender questioning part, or even the manager part, I definitely think just being… normal with it will help. IMO destigmatizing is done best by making the normal… normal. For example, I recently returned to work after maternity leave and have to pump. I’m in an office full of redneck males. I was/am very open about it – not like “I’m pumping milk from my boobs now” but just “I have to go into the closet now”. They’re all adults – it’s fine. (Although one asked jokingly if it all came out ok. Sure – want a taste?)

    As an employee I always feel more supported by my manager if they make things NBD. My manager is open with the fact he’s taking a day off to go fishing (in redneck terms, a mental health day). It makes it known that it’s NBD if we take a day off, too.

  35. Leave yourself out of it*

    As a manager, you can destigmatize and normalize mental health issues without ever mentioning your personal connection to them. When discussing time off with employees, you can include therapist appointments in a list of examples of reasons to use PTO. You can include psychiatric medications in a list of common medications covered by your drug plan. You can remind employees that “mental health days” and other proactive health- and self-care are a good use of their PTO that you are happy to approve. This normalizes and destigmatizes these issues without centering you in a way that is likely to make your reports uncomfortable.

  36. Elbe*

    This is such a tricky topic because one way to de-stigmatize is to be open, but a person’s health information is usually considered deeply private. Hearing about a coworker’s (particularly a manager’s) mental health and medication would probably make a lot of people really uncomfortable.

    The LW should try to keep it general unless she has some reason to think that an individual employee is comfortable with more details. “I struggle with focus sometimes” would be a better bet than “I have ADHD and take medication.” If there’s a time of particular stress, she could saying something like “Mental health is just as important as physical health. It’s a stressful time right now, so use your sick days if you need to.”

    And, of course, if employees share their own struggles, or if their struggles become apparent, being accepting and understanding would go a long way. Because the goal here isn’t just to model acceptance to the people who struggle. It’s also to model acceptance to her fellow managers, who may not be able to personally relate to these issues.

  37. Rambler*

    You can be supportive and open without making it A Thing or going out of your way to Mention! Mental Health! And Equality! Yay!
    Looking back, the boss I felt most comfortable talking to and being honest with about my struggles was the boss who was warm, friendly, and trustworthy, but I didn’t know anything more personal about him than any of my other bosses. It was more about knowing I could 100% trust him to keep things confidential between us unless I told him to tell the group.
    My current boss went into details about the medical reasons why one of my coworkers was out in a staff meeting, and I was horrified because if it were me, I wouldn’t want her to share that. So I always just tell her I’m fine or use the standard “doctor appointment” or “bad headache” as excuses. So make sure that you only share what people ask you to share.

  38. Jules the 3rd*

    1) Normalize medical treatment / therapy, including flextiming it if needed. Don’t go out of the way to mention it or give details on the topic (which may need some practicing), but ‘Wednesdays, I leave early for a standing therapy appointment’ goes a long way.
    2) Be open to discussing it with them, but don’t bring it up out of the blue. I disclosed my OCD diagnosis to one manager to explain a regular flextime. He told me he understood, since he was also in treatment for an anxiety disorder. We didn’t talk about it much after, just… had an extra level of sincerity in our ‘how are you?’ conversations. A second manager, I explained my son’s autism meant I didn’t want to do jobs that required extensive travel. A couple of years later, he asked how my son was doing and mentioned his daughter was diagnosed with autism, and they were struggling with her OCD. I disclosed and we sometimes talked about it. That one became a friendship after he left the company, we still check in with each other regularly.
    3) Spend some time investigating racial / diversity / equity best practices, check whether your company has them, and how they apply to your team. If they have them, promote them to your employees in your general communications (eg, my team’s monthly meetings, or the quarterly blogs I get from my top 3 levels of execs). If they don’t, can you implement them, or push for the company to do so? Some basics include (but are totally not limited to!):
    * Do you do recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)?
    * Could you do initial resume reviews without names?
    * Are job roles sorted into transparent salary bands?
    * Does your company have and promote EAPs?
    * Is flextime available? What are the company norms around it (with the letter earlier this week – if 2x/mo is too much, you don’t really have flextime)?
    * Is your company large enough to have interest group orgs? My very large employer has internal groups for multiple races / ethnicities, LGBTQx, women in [function], etc.

  39. learnedthehardway*

    I would strongly suggest that the OP consider that whatever they disclose to anyone is no longer under their control – whether that is about mental health or physical health.

    So, I would say it follows that you share ONLY with people you really, really trust.

    As much as the OP wants to be supportive of mental health issues, they have to put their own privacy first.

    1. Double A*

      I have to respectfully disagree with this perspective. This pre-supposes there’s a stigma around the ways you manage your mental health. The way you manage your mental health is really no different than the tools and strategies everyone uses to manage their workflow.

      So if sometimes tried to “gossip” about how you use timers to manage your work because of your ADHD you’d like… “Yes, indeed I do.” It’s no different that people knowing you have brown hair or like to listen to music when you’re working on reports.

      Now, there are some facets of your mental health you may want to keep private, but frankly a LOT of it is totally appropriate for other people to know about. You take meds? Yep, cool, lots of people take meds for medical conditions. You go to a therapist? Indeed, as we all go to doctors to help with our health. The notion that one needs a ton of privacy around mental health issues stems from the stigma around them. Yes, don’t share if you don’t want to and are a very private person, but if you want to just be open and factual about it, you can.

  40. NovaGirl*

    I think the way to normalize these things in the workplace is just having those things going on and being present in the workplace. I have mental health issues, take medication, go to therapy, and also have some physical differences that make me an outlier in most workplaces and are usually stigmatized. I show up and am competent and do my job well and BOOM, the workplace is more diverse and they keep promoting me! I don’t announce the stuff that can’t be seen to everyone I work with because that is poor boundaries to just unload on other people like that. I think this sounds like an issue understanding social cues and boundaries, and may be something to work on with your therapist. It’s important to understand that it’s not any of those things about you that detract from your professionalism, it’s when and how and to whom you disclose them, and not understanding why unloading a bunch of information about yourself on an employee you’re managing puts them in a strange, uncomfortable position.

    If you are warm, accepting, supportive, encouraging, and competent as a manager, your employees won’t have a problem asking for what they need from you, or asking for accommodations if they need them. They will learn who you are because you show them who you are. They will trust you when you show that you have their backs. You are more than a collection of identities, and THAT is what’s important. Not your ADHD, or gender identity, or sexuality, or the meds you take. Those are just pieces of information about you — they are not who you are, and they are not what’s going to make someone know you, understand you, promote you, or put you in leadership positions. Your actions are what will make you successful and make your direct reports successful as well. Period.

    1. some dude*

      Thanks for that second paragraph. I feel like one of the negative side effects of this moment we are in is the tendency to over-correct systemic inequity by essentializing peoples identities as if that is the most important aspect of them and it defines who they are as a person.

    2. KB*

      Telling people with marginalized identities that their identity isn’t who they are is a lot like saying you don’t see race. We need our identities to be seen and understood instead of dismissed, hidden, or othered. I can center my identity AND show people that I am good at x, y, or z through my actions.

  41. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Mentally ill (Depression, schizophrenia, ptsd etc) former manager and staff member here so here’s my perspectives:

    Foster an environment where people feel safe, in general! If your staff feel that they can trust you not to spread gossip, lie about their achievements or act like a prat then they’ll feel more open about approaching you if they need accommodations for mental illness etc.

    So, show your integrity. Be approachable, reasonable and discreet.

    I didn’t mention my specific mental illnesses at work because I was afraid of the stigma surrounding it (not sure how anyone would take knowing their boss is schizophrenic without it ending up as a letter to an advice column) but I did make a thing about taking care of your mental health being just as important as physical health, and I did various things for mental health charities and mentioned them.

    Lastly, I came down like a ton of bricks on anyone who hassled another member of staff with any kind of ableist remarks or comments about people being ‘crazy’.

    (Apologies for number of brackets. Former programmer)

  42. 10Isee*

    I would think the best course of action is to continue to manage your situation, and then be matter-of-factly clear about what you’re doing to manage it when it affects work. So, scheduling self-care days and being open about that (after ensuring that your reports have adequate leave to do the same). Or mentioning that your recurring appointment is for therapy, or that you use a specific calendar system for ADHD. No need to provide detail about your own particular experience with those things, but it’s a way to openly model that resources are available and you encourage everyone to make use of them.

  43. Actual Vampire*

    I think it’s good to be open about mental health at work, but there’s a big difference between peer level and manager-employee relationships. When managers/professors/older colleagues have talked to me in-depth about their mental health struggles, I’ve often interpreted it as an “uphill in the snow both ways” story: like they’re telling me that this is just how it is in this field, or that they suffered and I will also suffer. I don’t think they really meant it that way! But if you want to show you care about your report’s mental health, do it by using your power as a manager to create a healthy workplace. Telling them in depth about your personal struggles is not helpful to them, and can be harmful if it’s not backed up by your actions as a manager.

  44. Ms Frizzle*

    This is maybe only tangentially related, but: I’m not a manager, but I am a team lead/coach. Part of my job IS providing social-emotional support for my coaching clients when needed. When I first started this role, I had a hard time figuring out how to make sure I was doing that for them without over sharing. What I landed on is: stress flows upward, support flows downward. If it’s relevant to a discussion with a client I might share that I’ve been struggling with something similar (we’ve been commiserating a lot about technology recently), but in a positive way that keeps the focus on them and what they need. If I become aware that I need support with something myself, I deliberately avoid talking about it with my team and take it to my coach instead.

    Queerness is different, though! I’m out to some coworkers because it’s come up, and not out to others because it hasn’t. It’s a little tricky because I’ve mostly been in straight-passing relationships recently. But sharing that I’m queer doesn’t raise the possibility of other people feeling like I need support/help the same way discussing an issue that I’m finding stressful does, so I worry less about where and when I share it (which I realize is awfully privileged in my liberal field/city!).

    1. KB*

      “stress flows upward, support flows downward. If it’s relevant to a discussion with a client I might share that I’ve been struggling with something similar (we’ve been commiserating a lot about technology recently), but in a positive way that keeps the focus on them and what they need. If I become aware that I need support with something myself, I deliberately avoid talking about it with my team and take it to my coach instead.”

      I love this.

      1. Ms Frizzle*

        I would never have been able to articulate it so clearly for myself without a couple of years of reading this site!

  45. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    There’s a big difference between modeling and destigmatizing, on the one hand, and actively evangelizing on the other. Especially when you’re speaking from personal experience.

    If you were in medicine, or a nonprofit devoted to mental health, or something along those lines, then you should feel free to bring the subject up out of thin air. But otherwise, you need to read the room, and know when it’s appropriate to bring it up.

    Mental health should be treated no differently from any other facet of health. Which means that you shouldn’t go out of your way to explain the details of your procedure to get the warts zapped off your feet, any more than you should randomly talk about your mix of ADHD meds.

  46. Double A*

    In some ways this is hard for me to answer because mental health issues just…aren’t a stigma for me and that’s the mode I’ve operated in for years! But I’m a Special Ed teacher. So I talk about my mental health and I’ve had bosses talk about their mental health.

    I view of disability as difference. Like, your brain just works differently, or your body just works differently, and you may need different tools/strategies/resources to access your job and the world at large (as do we all, frankly, it’s just a matter of degree).

    It’s difficult to talk about mental health if you don’t yet understand what those resources or strategies are yet, but once you know, I think you can talk about them as matter-of-factly as you would if you needed something like an ergonomic chair. The culture at your office about accommodation in general will go a long way paving the path for destigmatizing mental health.

  47. Sylvia*

    I’m commenting again because I’m seeing two different issues in the comments, and I think people are conflating “de-stigmatizing and fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace” with “hearing all about my boss’s medical issues.”

    I think these are two separate things. Yes, it is absolutely a manager’s job to foster an open, inclusive, diverse workplace that is ready to support anyone who needs who and shut down anyone who is being discriminatory. However, I don’t think this goes hand in hand with a manager oversharing about their own issues.

    Personally, I don’t want to hear about my manager’s issues because I have no idea how to respond to that. This is someone that controls my paycheck, my job, and my life, basically, and I would be terrified of getting it wrong.

    That’s not to say that managers can’t struggle with mental health issues—of course they can. But if they need support, then they need to go to their boss/overhead, not to a direct report or someone subordinate.

    That’s also not to say that a manager can’t transition/come out at work. Again, of course they can. And it should be on their boss/overhead to help foster a non-discriminatory workplace.

    I think I’m just trying to make a distinction between fostering the right kind of workplace and putting too much of a burden on junior/subordinate employees.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I think there’s a lot of confusion in these comments between “I’m going to tell you all about my mental health struggles” and commenting casually, “Oh, I’ll be over in that part of town after my therapy, so I can grab X from the print shop.” Those are two different things. One of them creates issues for your reports and one of them doesn’t. People who “know” ie those who also have mental health stuff will read know and people who don’t won’t.

    2. Forrest*

      I think in turn you’re conflating “hearing about my manager’s issues” with “my manager is asking me for support”. I don’t quite get where the assumption comes from that if someone says they have anxiety, or ADHD, or bipolar disorder, or whatever, that is “struggling with” or “needing support”. Can’t it ever just be neutral information, like “I am married” or “I’m running a marathon this summer” or “I’m from Scotland originally but I’ve lived here for ten years now”?

  48. Tinker*

    Couple things I think of:

    — there’s a meme going around my circles about a leader in the military who books an appointment with a therapist every Friday at 10:00, goes to the therapist, and talks about football. Reason: so that all the junior folks see their leader going to the therapist every Friday at 10:00. That in particular is very dependent on a culture in which such a thing would typically be visible, but depending on the workplace and one’s own preferences to be open in a way that is contextually appropriate and matter of fact. Even “I have a private appointment at 10:00” could be effective signaling and perhaps is a really good idea, because it signals that having such things and not having to disclose details is normal.

    — It is most likely in part a me thing, but I notice a lot in people’s use of language. Do you do the pronouns-in-bio sort of thing that progressive-leaning companies tend to? That’s a signal, at least about the company. Do you, only if it is appropriate language for you and in your context, refer to the queer community? Do you say “autistic” instead of “with autism”? Do you make references to “executive function”? Do you, only if it is appropriate, refer to “spoons”? What sort of jokes do you make and what set of assumptions do they hinge on? This gets noticed. I would say, don’t stretch the way you express yourself in ways that aren’t natural for you because that can get real awkward, but if you code-switch maybe sometimes don’t.

  49. Mr. Cajun2core*

    I am an employee and this is how I have brought it up with my managers.
    I agree with the people who have said to bring up in regular conversation but not as an announcement.

    I did something really stupid, not serious, just stupid. “Sorry, ADD moment there.”
    I am groggy, though still functioning, but needing a third dose of caffeine instead of my normal one dose. While at the coffee pot or guzzling my third coke, “Switching anti-depressants can be tough. The insomnia is killing me. I hope the caffeine kicks in soon.” The key is so say it so casually that the person you are speaking to, doesn’t really notice what you are saying.

    1. 80HD*

      I’d be careful with this…with the “ADD moment” example, it makes it seem like you don’t have ADHD and are just being glib. Like my manager has occasionally said things like “Haha I’m so OCD, I have to have all my pens the same color” or “OCD moment, I had to straighten up the name tags on our mailboxes” or “I’m so ADD today, I left my coffee on the counter.” She doesn’t have ADHD or OCD.

          1. Mr. Cajun2core*

            However, those people should not be using those terms if they do not have those conditions.

            I would never say, “sorry bi-polar moment there” or anything like that. Using medical terms when you don’t have the condition is in essence lightening the severity of the condition almost to the point of making fun of it.

        1. Mr. Cajun2core*

          Please clarify, do you mean that if the colleague did not have ADD you would be less than thrilled? What if they did have ADD?

          1. Blue Anne*

            Well, importantly, I almost certainly won’t know whether they actually have ADD. So it’s a little beside the point. But… it would bug me either way. Maybe even more if the person actually did have that issue.

            Someone who doesn’t have it making comments like that is making light of a mental issue they don’t deal with and don’t understand. Someone who does have it making comments like that is contributing to other people making light of it and misunderstanding it, and frankly, stigmatizing it more.

            I put a lot of effort into managing my ADHD. Sometimes I make dumb mistakes because I’m a human, not because of ADHD specifically. I would really not like someone in my office to make a dumb mistake and say “ha ha, I’m so ADD.” It contributes to the “everyone is a little ADD” and “you’re so lucky you can get focus drugs!” crud. They’re lowering expectations for not just themselves, but also me.

            1. Mr. Cajun2core*

              Interesting thoughts. I also have ADD. I use that phrase rarely but when I do, it is because I just totally spaced out on something or someone. I usually use it as an “apology” (not an excuse but as an explanation and presenting facts) so that the person I am interacting with doesn’t think I wasn’t paying attention because what they were saying was not interesting or important to me. I do it so that someone realizes that there was a medical reason for my actions as opposed to just not caring.

    2. Mr. Cajun2core*

      I know this isn’t a medical condition but I have also said things like to following to managers and co-workers when they see me in obvious pain:
      “This heat is really causing my fibromyalgia to flare up.”

      In addition, it my office it is a very cool 68 degrees when in the rest of the building it is a warm 72 to 74 degrees. When people comment about it, I mention that I have an ADA accommodation due to heat causing pain issues. If they ask for more or even have a quizzical look on their face I mention the fibro.

  50. Amber Rose*

    Using power and privilege to fight back as a manager usually looks like systemic changes/influences rather than personal conversations IMO. It looks like fighting for EAP benefits and therapy coverage, better sick leave and vacation policies, modeling healthy behaviors around taking sick leave and vacation time and being flexible around appointments.

    1. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      Phew, this. My former manager loved to get in my business, and often shared hers unprompted. Would’ve greatly appreciated her being more cognizant of her own implicit bias/racism and making my workload reasonable.

    2. some dude*

      This. Also, in terms of queerness/gender identity issues, I’d focus more on creating a workplace that allowed people to bring themselves to work and wasn’t reinforcing negative gendered or heteronormative stereotypes, but wasn’t necessarily making a big thing about “I’m here, I’m queer, GET READY FOR ME!!!!” (unless you have that type of work environment, which great). Then it isn’t about your queerness or gnc-ness, but allows space for it. Be a manager who is queer rather than a queer manager, if that makes sense. Same with mental health stuff – it is a part of who you are and it is fine, but it isn’t who you are.

  51. Rachel in NYC*

    I think a lot comes down to your office- and the situation (and the people.) I know a couple of people had mentioned that knowing that co-workers suffer from the same medical conditions as them can help them feel less alone. Among other issues- I suffer from severe chronic migraines. I’ve always had more success in jobs where I’ve had supervisors with similar issues- either traditional migraine sufferers or- in my current job- a brain tumor that causes migraines.

    It means that my boss understands when I need to take time off. Or have the lights off in the office. Or when I take a few too many migraine medications- which has happened.

    But that kind of sharing wouldn’t work in every office- and I think it’s up to the manager to know whether it’s appropriate in their office.

  52. Person from the Resume*

    Being Queer comes up in conversation naturally if your office talks about spouses, partners, and dates. In general, though, I don’t think anyone should share too many details on casual dating or your dating saga, but “I had a great date with a lovely woman this weekend” is fine especially if you focus on the activity you did or restaurant where you ate.

    I’m not sure how/if being gender questioning can come up naturally. Maybe something simple as if gender comes up you say: “I’ve been giving it some thought myself,” but you’re on a journey that requires soul searching and you don’t want that soul searching to be work place discussion.

    To normalize therapy, you can say I have a standing therapy/counseling appointment very casually when explaining why you’re out or where you’re going. TMI would be explaining what you talk about with your therapist.

    1. Metadata minion*

      It comes up naturally if you’re in a read-as-queer relationship :-/ I’ve been occasionally tempted to make up a college girlfriend because I look like a straight woman (I am neither) in an opposite-sex relationship unless I go out of my way to correct people.

  53. Temperance*

    I think that, as a manager, emphasizing the org’s EAP and other mental health resources and treating physical health as similar to mental health is the best thing you can do. Sharing your own mental health diagnoses is not something I would advise.

  54. CatPerson*

    All you need, and should, do is treat your co-workers as though none of those things matter. I personally would not want my managers to initiate such personal subjects unless it was in the context of a no big deal mention. Such as “I’m heading out, how about you, do you have any plans for the weekend?” You: “yeah, I’m going to march in the Pride parade, how about you?” Personal medical details, no, no, no.

  55. Not My Normal Username*

    I’m a queer woman with generally well-managed depression/anxiety, and my boss at a previous job was also a queer woman with mental health diagnoses (not sure of the exact diagnosis.) She overshared about everything in a way that was super uncomfortable and made me actually less likely to share things with her, even if they affected my work, because I feared she would overreact. I was always open about my sexuality with her (before I realized it would mean a lot of long, annoying conversations about had I seen Queer Classic X or what did I think of Queer Celeb Y, and how could I not be familiar with Somewhat Dated Queer Reference Z), but I was never open about my mental health because I thought she’d likely ask intrusive questions about it under the guise of being supportive. (I regularly heard about how expensive her psychiatrist was, etc. etc.) I don’t think this is something you’d do, OP, based on the thoughtfulness of this letter, but wanted to sound a note of caution especially since oversharing of feelings can be…one of my less favorite parts of queer culture.

    What I would have liked, though, is what a lot of others are suggesting: be normal and casual, and focus on how these parts of your identity affect your work and/or limit them to minor small talk. So “Oh, my wife and I just adopted a puppy” but not “I just broke up with my girlfriend and here’s a twenty minute story about what happened and how I feel about it.” Clothes and hair can also make a huge difference, either modeling professional gender-nonconformity yourself or with (quick, light-hearted) compliments for those who do (“love that buzz cut/bowtie, AFAB Direct Report X!”) (This is probably one of the things I appreciate the most as a queer woman, even though I’m cis and gender-conforming.)

    In terms of mental health, the same thing: “Hey, I come in late on Tuesdays because I have therapy, so I won’t be available during that time” or “Can you send me an email with those dates? I have ADHD, so I have to make sure I put everything in my planner” or even “I have some health-related anxiety, so quarantine has been rough for me! I want to encourage you to take care of your mental health during this time, and here’s what the company is doing to be more flexible/take mental health days/etc.”

  56. Inver*

    Something I would be very wary of is sharing about mental health in a spirit of openness in a way that (accidentally maybe) pressures your employees to comfort/support/manage your emotions for you.

    In a previous job, I had a manager who wanted to people to be unafraid to bring their full selves to work. This included being open about mental health. Sounds laudable, but what actually happened was that he was unafraid to bring up his flaws, insecurities, and mental health struggles, and I had to spend my one-on-ones reassuring him that he was a good manager (he was not). It was excruciating because he actually WAS insecure so I had to step very lightly and manage a lot of his emotions for him, which I utterly loathed. He truly thought he was being open and fostering a healthy team by sharing his struggles. He was actually just getting free therapy from me.

    I like the idea of destigmatizing mental health. If I were a manager who wanted to actively do this, I would focus primarily on being a very approachable and safe person to talk to in general. If something mental health related comes up, treat it matter-of-factly and if it seems helpful, mention briefly that you dealt with similar stuff so (example) you know it can be a draining, and the company totally supported you taking time off. If that’s something your report is ever interested in, just let you know. What would report like to do?

    The idea is to keep a professional, helpful mien while not making the conversation about you or accidentally pressuring your reports to share more or to be your therapist.

    For queer stuff, I’m queer myself and I am pretty aware of how many queer peeps are at my workplace. In this I think casually dropping it in water-cooler convos is great at making it seem normal (because it is).

    I am a friendly but private person at work. I intentionally do not bring my full self, and would be uncomfortable by anything or anyone who seemed to be pressuring me to share more than I wished. Managers can do that by accident, so I second everyone saying to be very judicious when and how you stuff up.

  57. 80HD*

    I think that there’s a line that can be drawn between oversharing and fostering inclusive environment. To me, a manager bringing up her ADHD and complaining at length about how hard her life/job are to a direct report would be oversharing. But if an employee says they have ADHD or another mental health issue and are afraid of the stigma, something like “I understand, I have ADHD,” without going into too much detail might be a way to make the employee feel more comfortable and relate to them.

  58. Data Analyst*

    I think the times we are living in present a unique opportunity to bring up mental health – a lot of peoples “baseline” mental health has taken a dip, and those of us with specific conditions may be seeing them flare up, or manifest differently due to working from home or working with other new guidelines, etc. etc.
    If I were a manager I would work something more specific into the usual “take time off, unplug when you can” spiel. I am struggling with the exact wording of it, but maybe it includes something like “I block off my weekly therapy appointments; I encourage you to take time for yourself in whatever way helps you, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to support you” …I don’t know, something that is a little more personal while still professional and makes it clear that you can help them in a manger way — by including a reference to whatever is available through the company in terms of flexible schedule or other resources, because that keeps it in the professional realm rather than the “I welcome you to make me a surrogate therapist” realm.

  59. Jay*

    I’d find the easiest way is to just let things come up in natural conversation. Don’t hide things but don’t provide unprompted information. For example – if I had a manager/direct report/co-worker who was a lesbian – I would find it off putting for them to walk up and say “Hi, I’m a lesbian” (just like it would be odd for me to walk up to someone and declare I am straight). However, if a group was talking about their weekend and someone would say “Oh my girlfriend and I went to an art festival” that’s natural and fitting into the conversation.

    While I applaud you for wanting to be a model and being proud of who you are, you need to understand that due to social stigmas, work place norms, not everyone feels the need to share their personal beliefs. The best thing for you to do as a manager is let your employees know that the office is a safe space, you are supportive of their goals and you are happy to be there for them as much or as little as they need and scale your style accordingly.

    1. Blue Anne*

      It seems like a lot of commenters are assuming that something like your “Hi, I’m a lesbian” scenario is what OP is thinking about, instead of anything more natural and subtle.

      I’m so confused by that assumption. Where is it coming from? Is this something that has happened to you?

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I think the “Hi, I’m a lesbian” thing is a little over the top. It’s an exaggeration. But I think people are reacting to OP’s conflation of things that could plausibly come up naturally in a conversation (e.g., being queer, having ADHD) with things where it’s hard to think of a case where they’d come up naturally with one’s direct report (e.g., questioning gender, being on meds, etc.). It’s a bit harder to think of a scenario in which the report would set up a scenario in which the natural answer is “well, since I’m questioning my gender . . . ”

        So one is left with the impression that OP perhaps wants to bring these things up as such. Which isn’t the sort of thing one typically does with a direct report. It is, however, the sort of thing one does with a friend. That’s OP’s question. When does something tip over from being friendly to being “a friend”. I think that’s what people are trying to answer.

        1. Forrest*

          >>It’s a bit harder to think of a scenario in which the report would set up a scenario in which the natural answer is “well, since I’m questioning my gender . . . ”

          I mean, that’s just because that’s still stigmatised and you haven’t encountered those situations. Forty years ago, many people would have found a casual, “I was at the beach with my girlfriend, how about you?” just as unimaginable and forced.

          It’s not THAT impossible to imagine a business situation where someone says, “My pronouns are they/them” or “By the way, when you book that flight, the name on my passport is Mr ____” or “Can you check whether the conference venue has gender neutral toilets?” or “Actually I went to an all girls’ school!” There are plenty of ways that assumptions about gender identity come out and might need to be addressed.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            I probably didn’t explain myself very well. That’s my fault. The point I was trying to make is that discussing a currently active personal struggle with a direct report is problematic because of the power dynamics cited elsewhere. All of your examples are not that; they’re simply facts about the speaker. Questioning one’s gender, on the other hand, is very different from simply being gender nonconforming in some way. It implies a process that’s unfinished and still requires some processing, and it’s not clear why that would be appropriate to share with an underling. I didn’t mean to imply that OP should hide or avoid the fact of being gender nonconforming; I only meant to specify that whatever questioning (OP’s word) is happening is really for OP to deal with, not for their employee to be brought in on.

            Similar statements that would be out of place would be “I’m considering leaving my abusive wife,” “I’m really excited about this guy I started dating but I don’t know whether I should call him or wait for him to call me,” “I’m thinking about a career change; there are great opportunities in tech right now”, “I’m on two different heart medications, but I’m considering switching to diet-based solutions.” None of these are stigmatized. But nor are they the kinds of things you discuss with your employee, or even indirectly imply is happening with you.

            Again, several of the things OP mentions are appropriate for such conversation, but I don’t think we have to conclude that therefore everything is appropriate.

            1. Forrest*

              yes, that makes sense! However, I wouldn’t necessarily read “gender questioning” that way. I agree that if it’s something that is a source of distress or concern, that’s not appropriate to discuss with someone you have power over. But I also know people who use “gender-questioning” similarly to “genderfluid”–it’s not necessarily a process, it’s just who they are and they aren’t progressing towards an end point of Gender Certainty. So in those situations, it might well be something that comes into work in certain situations.

  60. WantonSeedStitch*

    I feel like there are ways you can normalize this stuff by talking about it…normally. For example, someone with a same sex partner could talk about plans for the weekend with that partner, not hiding their gender. Someone who is gender questioning could make a point of using the pronouns that they feel work best for them in their e-mail signature, and of introducing themselves with pronouns as well as name in the workplace before asking the other person’s name (and checking what pronouns the other person uses when they give their own name, if the person doesn’t supply them). Someone who has mental health issues can make a point of talking about how sick time benefits apply to ANY health issues, either physical or mental. I feel like onboarding a new employee is a great time for this, and also for talking about accommodations for all kinds of disabilities. (“If there’s anything we can do to help you do your job better, please don’t be afraid to ask, whether it’s a better ergonomic setup for your work station or permission to make an audio record of trainings rather than taking written notes. We’re happy to make reasonable accommodations.”) You don’t have to reveal a lot of personal information to create an environment where people of all kinds will feel welcome.

    1. Forrest*

      >>Someone who is gender questioning could make a point of using the pronouns that they feel work best for them in their e-mail signature, and of introducing themselves with pronouns as well as name in the workplace before asking the other person’s name

      Someone who is not gender-questioning can do this too. :)

  61. Liv*

    I was lucky enough to have an amazing boss in my last job who nailed this particular balance, among many things. She made it clear that my personal concerns and personal life were important and that work-life balance was valued through her actions more than her words. I’m sure this will vary from person to person, but I do think that ultimately your actions are what show that these things matter, by enabling your report to do whatever she needs to take care of herself.

    For example, my boss never discussed her own mental health with me, but took mental health days herself and would let me know – “Hey Liv, Heads up – I’ll be out of the office today for an unplanned mental health day. Let me know if anything with Project Y comes up when we have our meeting on Monday.”. No details, but demonstrating that she needs mental health days and takes them, and then of course she gave approval when I did the same. It also gave us a stepping stone to sharing more details. For instance, it made it easier for me to ask about changing my schedule to accommodate weekly therapy appointments (something I still feel like I have to tiptoe around at my current job!). I felt fine mentioning that I was going to therapy, and felt no pressure to share more – simply because she demonstrated her priority for her own mental health, and a breezy, professional attitude about it.

    The other way I think managers can use their actions to support the personal lives of their reports is by using their power to lobby for these things. Managers have access to higher level authorities and need to demonstrate that they’ll convey concerns and push for needed changes. This can vary depending on the situation but includes a lot of these things (safety and support for gender questioning and LGBTQ staff, mental health access) and more (race equity in the workplace, combating patriarchy, etc.). Personally, I want to see my manager willing to fight for those things, ideally BEFORE I even have to come to them with an issue. That’s how I feel supported and feel my needs de-stigmatized. I know I can feel good about my boss when they’re doing these things and the company as a whole shows the results – not because of what we talk about around the coffee pot.

  62. Cube Diva*

    Oh this is so timely! I am the employee in this instance, with mental health issues, and do tend to overshare with my boss, who is WONDERFUL and very supportive. About a week ago, I literally said, “My trauma tends to manifest itself as flashbacks, so I’m just going to go ahead and take the 15th off.” I recognize that I’m very lucky to be able to say that out loud to my boss. Granted, it’s my kid’s birthday, and we had a very traumatic birth that she knows about from last fall.

  63. Heat's Kitchen*

    I think as a manager, you shouldn’t be the first one to share these struggles with your employees. I do think there are other ways you can encourage them to confide in you and that you support them. Remind them that mental health days are necessary – espeically now – but if you cast a wide net, that encompasses a lot. If your company has any ally-type employee resource groups, be a part of it, make sure your employees know (but aren’t required to join), etc. If your work doesn’t, could you work with HR on spinning on up? I think in this case, actions speak louder than words. Encourage employees to take time off, to take care of themselves, and be there for them if they need it. Your personal experiences can be brought in to show support, but like someone else said, I wouldn’t do it first because it could feel pressuring.

  64. Sabine the Very Mean*

    Just please don’t do what my former boss did; when very valid concerns were raised about the operation of organization or how she treated people terribly, she simply shrugged and said, “I have ADHD” in a tone that meant, “how dare you question me when I suffer so much!”

  65. Wendy Darling*

    I had a manager who would cheerily inform the team that she was taking a particular day off as a mental health day, and I loved that. It wasn’t oversharing but it was sharing just enough to make it clear that this was something we were allowed to do — we could, within reason, just take a day because we needed a day. I did not have to make out like I had more migraines than I do because I have mostly well-controlled mental health issues that occasionally require a little extra rest.

    Generally I think I don’t necessarily want my managers to share about their personal mental health issues or other issues, but I do want them to normalize those issues existing and the company dealing with them compassionately, if that makes sense? Use flex time for therapy appointments and be open that you stay late on Wednesdays so you can leave early on Thursdays for a recurring appointment. Take mental health days and call them mental health days. Don’t make excuses for needing a sick day and don’t ask your employees to give them either.

  66. Nobody Special*

    My Firm has a Chief Mental Health Officer, and one of his roles is to create space for people to share (as much as they are willing) in order to help de-stigmatize mental health concerns. He has been very open about his own struggles with good mental health, including talking about suicidal ideation. We also have a mental health group with local members who share their own struggles in order to help others. Part of the conversation is a very clear “we are here to support you, these are the options available (EAP, peer support, mentoring, etc.)” but there is also a visible component of “if a Partner in our Firm can experience this reality and succeed, you as more junior employees can too”. It’s an example of the policy that we support and do not dismiss mental health issues, including being up front that we will keep your job for you if you need to take time off to heal. The CMHO also provides his cell and email to everyone cross-country and states that if people aren’t sure where to go, to talk to EAP or whatever, they can chat with him first – he’s very open, caring, and supportive, and a wonderful human being that I have known for over 15 years.

    1. TL -*

      Oh I would not be comfortable with a professional acquaintance sharing that they had struggled with suicide idealation. That would not read to me as supportive or appropriate, even in his position.

  67. Amethystmoon*

    I say this as someone who had a co-worker who was a random oversharer: I would not want a manager doing that. Co-worker tried to use me as a free therapist. He clearly had multiple mental health issues. But I am not trained as a therapist and had my own work to do. As others have said, it’s ok to share things as they come up in casual conversation at the coffee pot. But don’t do information dumps, they just make the other person feel overwhelmed.

  68. Oh No She Di'int*

    I feel like the majority of comments are missing the point of the question.

    OP is not asking how to become a crusader for all genderqueer people within the company. OP is not asking for best practices in how to destigmatize mental health issues within their industry.

    OP has a specific person in mind and wants to know how much can be shared with this specific person with whom they want to be “friendly” but not “friends”. In that context, I think the answer is any and all of it so long as it’s directly related to the professional situation at hand or is the natural answer to a direct question. Also if it’s something that is not a “problem” but is just an aspect of yourself (e.g., “I went to the beach with my wife/husband…”) But none of it if it falls into the category of a “personal problem” that you just feel like sharing for its own sake for some reason. Direct reports just don’t need to know about anything that is an active and current “problem” for you.

  69. a clockwork lemon*

    I think it’s fine if it comes up in casual conversation and you don’t dwell on it, but you definitely don’t want to be pushy or super outspoken about it in the office. So, for example, I know that we’ve got several LGBTQ people in my office because things like “I mentor trans college students” or “I’m doing the AIDS relief 5k for [organization]” come up naturally in casual conversation. We know who goes to therapy because they’ll have a difficult project and say things like “I’m going to have to schedule an emergency therapy session if this problem doesn’t get resolved.”

    At the end of the day, though, the way to normalize this sort of thing as a manager is to make sure all your reports know what company resources and supports are available to them, and to model taking advantage of those things. It was HUGE for me the day my boss said, “I’m going to be out of office tomorrow. I will technically be available via email but I intend to go to Target then take a long bubble bath and sit in complete silence for several hours so please don’t need me” and then a few weeks later encouraged me to take the whole day off to get my hair done because I’d been talking about it and she noticed I had a ton of banked PTO.

  70. Gypsy, Acid Queen*

    I wanted to add if there is a way to pull in from your industry or laterally to try and do that as well, and I think makes you be a better boss and facilitator and helps keep the boundary.

    In my “teapot analysis business” we’re kinda isolated and my boss has not been great on communication or easing our anxiety during these stressful times. The boss is also a bit “conservative” on how to “behave” in the workplace. However, there was recently an industry conference online that me and my coworkers attended (we’ve historically never attended because in-person wasn’t an option given to us) and I found out through the zoom meetings that almost everyone was struggling as much as we are and is a big ole quirky dork! It was an amazing validation that we got through this.

  71. Learning As I Go*

    OP – I think this is a situation where you can use your power and privilege to create a safe space for your employees who may be struggling with mental health issues, but without disclosing your own. In my experience, work relationships can turn on a dime, especially if there’s a manager-direct report relationship. What if you share your mental health struggles with an employee who you later have to discipline, and the employee decides to use that information against you? I had to have disciplinary conversations with 2 direct reports last week, and in both cases, they became angry and attacked me personally. I was reasonable, calm, and professional – they were not. And they were in clear violation of company policies, but it didn’t matter. They still tried to spin the focus of the meeting onto my shortcomings. I don’t doubt for a *second* that they would throw me under the bus if they were backed in a corner with HR or upper management, so I don’t trust them with deeply personal information. It’s not uncommon for emotionally healthy people (as you seem to be) to assume that others will extend the same courtesies and kindnesses back to them. Sadly, they won’t, and you don’t want to risk your career or professional reputation.

    Disclaimer: I have PTSD, anxiety, and other issues, and am currently transitioning between therapists (so I have 2 at the moment). I’m not ashamed of it in the least, and I’m open about it with family and friends. But not at work. “I’m being treated for PTSD” can easily be spun into, “she is mentally unstable” by someone with bad intentions.

  72. A retail manager*

    Man this is gonna go against all the good manager rules but we had an employee having a mental health issue what night at work and the night before he self injured at work and had to mop up his own blood and was having a hard time because someone said they knew how he felt and when he was good or not. (Because slef ingry on his arms) and his struggles weren’t as bad. And i told him I understand the self injury, ive been there. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t but at the time it was the right thing. (Haven’t saw him to talk about it he is getting some much needed help) I think that we have to break the stigmas around mental health. Id never tell him I was suffering but ill share that i have suffered.

  73. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    So, as an employee with mental health issues and ADHD, I do sometimes find it helpful to know about other coworkers’ issues. But from my manager? I think what I’d appreciate the most is just a generic communication that taking care of myself is encouraged as well as follow-through on that encouragement. My manager is very good about verbally telling us to take care of ourselves and our families, encourages work/life balance, etc. and then when something actually comes up, his attitude is very much one of, “Life happens. Don’t worry about taking time.” And he also practices what he preaches. I don’t know what the state of his mental health is, but I know he takes time for doctor appointments and regularly makes use of his PTO with no sense of stress or guilt.

    Leading by example has been the best for me because it reinforces that his statements that we need to take care of life stuff isn’t just lip service and that he’ll be supportive of our needs to take a mental health day, use our PTO, etc.

  74. Ladybugger*

    I find just being very matter-of-fact about it as though it’s any other health condition is the way to go. So like, how would I talk about it if I had, say, diabetes? It doesn’t come up very often but part of how I model it is not constantly explaining myself! I don’t owe people my life story and I think it’s just as helpful to say “I spent the weekend in bed, actually! How about you?” or “No plans this weekend, just want to decompress!” and I think honestly that’s enough.

    If it comes up somehow that I need to share my diagnoses for a legitimate reason, I will and I’m not shy about that. But generally I think not making a big deal of it is in line with not creating or contributing to stigma.

  75. Fluffernutter*

    My boss talks very casually about their mental illness, medication, and therapy and I think that went a long way to making it “normal”. Just a quick, “hey I’m going to be in later than usual because I have to go get my “medicine name” prescription filled”. I am neurotypical but hearing them mention their illness occasionally (maybe once a month) and encouraging taking PTO for mental health days really helped me know they value mental well being. I think the fact that there aren’t long, detailed sharing of their illness history helped keep the boss-subordinate boundary but made it clear where they stand.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Sincere question: would you feel the same way if your boss said, “I’m going to be late, I just have to pick up my Viagra”? What about “I’m going to be late, I just have to pick up my Plan B”?

      I don’t think removing stigma means treating serious things (serious enough to be on medication for it) as if they’re trivial. I think it means being free to mention those serious things freely in the same context in which you’d mention other serious things.

      1. Jostling*

        I would not feel the same way if my boss or another coworker mentioned their Viagra or Plan B, because I don’t expect someone’s sex life to impact their ability to work in the way that I expect their mental health to do so. I similarly wouldn’t expect to hear about blood pressure medication or a steroid cream for a skin condition. I WOULD appreciate hearing about accommodations for a physical disability that may impact their work, or another life situation that would impact their work (like caretaking responsibilities or a move). Obviously there’s no obligation to share those conditions, accommodations, or medications, but as a colleague it would be helpful to know about it, and normalizing talking about it makes it easier for everyone to share conditions that impact their work.

        “I think it means being free to mention those serious things freely in the same context in which you’d mention other serious things.” I agree that context is really important here, but I think that workplace relevance is independent of “seriousness.” Blood pressure issues that are well-managed = serious, but not relevant. ED = neither serious nor relevant. Unplanned pregnancy = serious, but not relevant until and unless parental leave comes into play. Depression that impacts work performance = both serious and relevant. Minor outpatient procedure = relevant but not serious.

        Then we have to tackle the issue of stigmatized topics and power dynamics. I’d argue that most people would feel ok about bringing up the outpatient procedure to their boss: “hey boss, I need a day off for [outpatient procedure].” They may or may not want to share the details of the procedure with their boss, and that decision is probably made with a nod towards the “relevance” discussed above. But someone who is having a really hard time managing work because of depression or another mental health condition may not feel comfortable having a similar conversation with their boss. The outpatient procedure conversation has been normalized, while the depression accommodations conversation has been stigmatized. OP is looking for ways to use their position to reduce the stigma and make it easier for their employees to get the support they need.

  76. Kara S*

    I would think discussing these topics if they come up but not actively pushing them into the conversation is a great way to remove stigma without unnecessarily oversharing. You are keeping things casual and showing topics such as mental health and therapy are not off limits but you aren’t leading the conversation that way. This would also allow your worker to take the lead and set boundaries on what they are comfortable talking about — for all you know, maybe they really don’t want to talk about therapy or mental health, regardless of how acceptable you make it. You could also make it clear through your actions that you support things such as taking mental health days, avoiding burnout, reducing stress, and honest communication. I personally would rather have a boss that checks in to make sure teams are not stressed or burning out than have a boss who tells me they go to therapy.

    As for gender identities and sexual orientation, again I think just addressing this casually when it comes up would be the most appropriate way to naturalize these topics. For example, “My wife and I have been to that restaurant before” or “My partner has been having a hard time with COVID since she does not like working from home” is really all you need.

  77. Kay*

    Last year, my manager’s son had a severe mental health crisis that meant he had to miss a major client event at the last minute, and I had to step in and take over his parts with about 24 hours of notice. It worked out fine – staff was all majorly supportive, and I always admired the way my manager was very frank and honest about what had happened, and in being firm that he needed to take the time he did to support his family. We weren’t (and didn’t need to be!) privy to tons of details but it was very clear what was happening. There was no shame in it, just empathy and support.

    Earlier that summer, I had also been briefly clear with him about needing to take some time to deal with a near-identical crisis in my own immediate family, and he instantly gave me the flexibility I needed. I asked for precisely what I needed, was clear but not explicit about why, and felt good that he understood it was very necessary. When he had his situation, it did help me to feel that I had been seen and understood with my own, even though it was retrospective.

    I’ve also had coworkers talk openly about family members’ struggles with addiction as it became relevant to work we did (for a project that had an outreach component). Not oversharing, not in exquisite gossipy detail, but simply in a “I’ve seen this first hand. It’s incredibly difficult. I understand a little bit about it, and that’s why it’s important to me that we get this right.”

    So – from those personal examples, I would say that what has worked best has been a no-frills, straightforward acknowledgement with no need for a weekly blow-by-blow, no judgment of others who may need similar accommodation, and communicated when there is a true need to do so. (“Because of X, I need to do Y in this way.”)

  78. ADHD Boss*

    I have a small team (remote, all over the world) and most of them know that I was diagnosed with ADHD and am working on stuff. It’s not something I mention frequently, but I think I framed it once as “Hey, the team is getting bigger and busier, so I need to figure out I can track our work as a team more effectively. This is something that I struggle with a bit, but I’ve recenly learned that it’s related to ADHD that has been undiagnosed until now. So I’ve been working on some strategies and am going to try a few different things, but I’d appreciate your feedback on the different options and tools as it has to work for all of us. You guys might have better insight than I do on this, so feel free to bring thenm forward.” I never, ever mention it as an excuse or explanation to why something got missed, etc.

    Everyone brings different strengths, and a few of my team are organizational whizzes. It’s my job to manage them and to manage myself, but I feel that being a little bit open about the fact that their strong point is my weak point gives them a bit more ownership to make suggestions on what might work better in that area. (Most are former teachers, so I think there’s less stigma around mental health and learning disabilities in that group).

    One positive thing is that an employee recently admitted to me that she was struggling with some mental health isssues, and that she had hesitated to disclose this to her previous manager. But she said she felt safer being open with me as she remembered me telling her about my ADHD. Although I’m obviously not her therapist and can’t give her advice, I can make sure that she has the flexibillity she needs to make doctor’s appointments, extend her lunch hour to get outside, etc, and to check in a bit more often as I know she’s feeling isolated due to Covid.

  79. Elizabeth*

    At a company that was open-calendar by default (but you could set individual events as private), my boss let his appointment with a psychiatrist be visible. That was a really low key way of destigmatizing talking about mental health with him, without oversharing.

  80. Jostling*

    So many good ideas here!

    Mental Health:
    – Explicitly call out therapy and mental health days as valid uses of PTO/flex time in materials and conversations. Model this behavior to show that you’re serious by specifying “therapist appointment” and “mental health day” in conversation where you would usually use “doctor appointment” and “sick day.”
    – If it’s appropriate, call out your own conditions or meds as they come up. I’m not in the same position, but I have mentioned in passing at the end of the day, “I’m sorry, I really need you to send me an email about this so I have it in writing because my ADHD meds have worn off.” Again, this mimics behavior or language that you would use anyway if you were referring to a headache or an allergy fog, where you mention them in passing as an explanation.

    Gender Identity & Sexuality:
    – Actively police your own language to shift toward gender-neutral language. Eliminate “guys,” “girls,” and “dude” entirely and use “spouse,” “partner,” and “parent” in place of “husband/wife,” “girlfriend/boyfriend,” and “mom/dad.”
    – If you can get away with it in your company culture, or if you have the political capital to lead the charge, add pronouns to your email signature and conference call apps.
    – Use the term “women” to refer to female-identifying adult humans. Do not call any female-identifying person over the age of 18 a “girl,” and do not allow your employees to do so, either. You’ll notice that you don’t need to police the term “boy” in the same way.

    Other:
    – Be willing and prepared to use your authority to cut down biased or discriminatory language and behavior in your workplace. Be calm but firm.
    – Use factual language to refer to events. Don’t say, “all the stuff going on,” say “the protests against police brutality.” Don’t say, “being safe,” say, “because of the dangers of COVID-19, we are socially distancing and requiring masks.” Don’t soften your language to ease the path when you’re making factually-based, non-political statements.

    Obviously, I think language is really important! Be precise and inclusive wherever you can. The more you do it, even if you start small, the easier it will be.

    1. ADHD Boss*

      Your point about being clear that about the validity of using sick time for mental health days and therapy is spot on! It reminded me that when my employee told me that they were experiencing some mental health issues, it actually arose when they were explaining why they took half a vacation day at the last minute the day before. I said “Oh, you don’t need to use vacation time for that reason. You can use sick time. And if you need to make appointments to help manage this, use your sick time for that too.” And it opened the conversation a bit. The person was relieved because they felt guilty for taking the time, embarassed about about it and ended up being quite relieved.

  81. LW*

    Hi everyone, LW here! I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all the thoughtful replies so far. It would be overwhelming for me to respond to them individually, but I am reading along and have already gained a lot from the comments and suggestions. It’s very helpful to see all these different perspectives in one place, and I’m appreciative of the effort so many people have made to tease out the nuances here. My letter pretty much collapsed queer stuff, mental health stuff, and workplace power dynamics all into one question, and it’s heartening to see folks taking it seriously and working to think through what some of the specific considerations & concerns might be. Thanks again. :)

  82. Green great dragon*

    OP, if you were up for it, I think it could be valuable to share some or all of that in a wider group – like your whole team. That gets the info out there but avoids putting pressure on your one report to respond. A manager colleague of mine did this beautifully in a whole-division meeting with her [subset of your list] which I think really helped others with [characteristic] as well as signalling more broadly that company was supportive of [such-like things]. It was very simple – this is [characteristic I have] and this is how it affects me at work and it is helpful if people do such-and-such when they work with me.

    But it’s a big thing, and no shame in staying lower-key if that’s your preference.

  83. TeMa*

    In terms of mental health, the line I’ve personally drawn is I don’t volunteer that information, except that 1) I make sure people know about office resources and volunteer that I use them (mostly relevant to employee assistance programs), and 2) I use it to try an make my direct reports comfortable when they are confiding in me. For example, I had a direct report who was not performing at her usual levels. I brought her into my office and asked her what was going on and she confided she was struggling with severe depression. She clearly felt deeply uncomfortable sharing that, so I told her simply that I have had depressive episodes, and completely understood how that effects work. I told her EAP had been really useful to me for finding a therapist, that mental health was a legitimate reason to take sick days and she and I had a discussion about finding coping mechanisms. We had much more in depth discussions as she wanted to go to school to do what I did, and was worried that depression meant she couldn’t succeed, so in the course of that conversation I said I took medication, but that isn’t something I generally volunteer to my direct reports (though I am open with it about colleagues I am friends with).

    I also don’t generally volunteer that I take mental health days when I take them because I simply send an email that says “I’m out sick today” because I want them to know details aren’t required. However, if I sense a direct report is stressed, I’ll let them know its okay to take mental health days and that I have myself and (if due the conversation it seems appropriate) I will also say I’ve used EAP to find therapy successfully.

    That you are queer and gender questioning I don’t have direct experience with myself, but my instinct is that’s different than mental health. It’s normal in chit-chat with direct reports to mention partners or dates, and certainly your preferred pronouns are appropriate to tell them should they change. I think you can be open not necessarily by declaring your identity but letting it come out naturally. But I defer to others who have more experience on that, and I think your comfort level should drive that.

    I think in general you can make you direct reports be comfortable being open with you just by being kind and approachable, then responding empathetically. You don’t necessarily need to mirror that openness entirely by volunteering information out of the blue, but just by creating an environment where your direct reports will talk to you and then if you wish you can make them comfortable using your own experiences as appropriate.

  84. deesse877*

    It seems like the most charitable interpretation of the pushback in comments here is that:
    (a) “normalizing” a stigmatized identity and “modeling” behavior are not intuitive concepts
    (b) some people have experienced openness as a power play
    (c) focusing one-on-one relationships narrows the conversation artificially, since it distracts from the structural nature of the problem
    (d) as OP has just noted, conflating many kinds of marginalization makes it hard to see what actions are really possible in a given situation.

    The least charitable way of looking at it is that some folks don’t want to have oppression brought to their attention unless the person suffering it is completely abject and powerless. They can offer pity, but cannot bear a relationship.

      1. Always Late to the Party*

        Your boss can make it known to you that she is in therapy without a personal relationship.

        The whole point of normalization is to make going to therapy as matter-of-fact as hair color. You wouldn’t be passed over for a promotion that you’re qualified for because you’re a brunette, so you shouldn’t be passed over for one because you have ADHD, anxiety, etc.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Wait, are we talking about workplace equity writ large here, or are we talking about getting a bit too familiar with an underling out of a sense of friendship? Because those are two very different questions. I think some people are answering the former and others are answering the latter.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Yep – this. Simply talking with their direct report about mental health will make very little a dent in normalizing going to therapy and whatnot.

      If the OP wants to do something, they should advocate that HR offer and promote mental health benefits and accommodations in company wide messaging and in the job contract. Basically like, “We’re here if you need to discuss xyz/take a mental health day/we offer these mental health resources…” But dear golly please DO NOT corner your direct report to talk about your personal mental health problems.

  85. saradesel*

    This isn’t exactly the same, but in my first week of starting a new job many years ago, there was a day that my (kind of scary at the time) boss walked by at around 2pm and said to me “hey, I’m leaving to go take my daughter to the doctor. I’ll see you tomorrow.” It did a lot to signal to me that this was an office where I could take care of health concerns during the day if I had to without issue/an office where I would be able to balance my work and my life. She’s no longer my boss, but it’s an example I’ve taken with me as I’ve become more senior – I don’t have to reveal a ton of info, but occasionally I will say something similar to a junior coworker if I am making that choice to indicate that it’s okay.

  86. Gaia*

    While I’m not currently a people-manager, I have been in the past and I am currently in a leadership role. I have GAD and have weekly therapy appointments along with medication that helps me manage it. I also strongly believe that as a woman in a leadership position, I want to use my position to help reduce the stigma around mental health in the workplace. I am also an extrovert who will share anything with anyone if I can. It has been a process to find the appropriate balance.

    One small thing I’ve done is block out my therapy appointment in my calendar. It is visible to anyone that looks. While it doesn’t include details, it is clear that it is a therapy appointment and that I’m unavailable at that time. I’ve also had times where I was obviously a little (or a lot) on edge, and I’ve mentioned my anxiety in conversations to my direct reports/peers/managers (as in: if I seem a bit off today, it is because my anxiety is high. I’ll let you know if I’m stepping away for a bit for some self care).

    I don’t get into details with anyone, but I also make it clear that I don’t consider this a “big thing” or something I should have to hide. It is just another work fact about me like that I work best in the mornings, I like listening to Audibles while I run the Llama Hair Analysis Report, and you can get me to do anything for a good company tote bag.

    There is a risk, with this approach, that others will use it against me, even unintentionally. But that is a risk I am willing to take because I’ve established a very solid professional reputation and I believe this is a worthy pursuit for the greater good.

  87. flatbush*

    It seems like the OP is assuming all employees are just like them, i.e., want to talk about mental health in the office, or at least hear about it–and the only reason not to over-share is out of respect for some abstract norm. This is a bad assumption. Many people find mental health to be a tedious topic, including those who have their own mental health struggles.

    I don’t like how “queer” and “mental health problems” are being lumped together in this question. So I’m just setting the queer piece aside.

    Finally, keep in mind that not everyone believes therapy and/or meds are the best way to manage issues like anxiety or ADHD. It’s a controversial area. Often times people who are in therapy can come off self-righteous and judgmental toward people who aren’t into therapy. Someone in authority is likely to evoke that dynamic even if they don’t intend to. I assume that’s the opposite of what OP is going for.

    1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      I don’t like how “queer” and “mental health problems” are being lumped together in this question.

      Does it help to think of it as “queer” and “disabled” being lumped together, as both those marginalized populations are often shut out of professional opportunities? I think that’s how the OP meant it.

  88. Fire Lord Azula*

    Not a manager, but I stick to bringing those kinds of things up when it makes sense in conversation. For example, I don’t just run around work telling everyone about my major struggles with depression, but when a colleague mentioned that they were feeling depressed I told them how much medication had helped me. None of these things are causes for shame but I totally understand how it might feel awkward.

  89. Sharon*

    One of the most helpful things you can do is be open to and ask about different work styles, whether or not those rise to the level of being an accommodation. Ask people how they communicate best (writing, phone, face to face) and how much oversight they need. Do they prefer shorter, more-frequent check-ins or do they work best when left alone unless a problem arises? Does a quiet work space help or hinder their concentration? Does their brain work better earlier or later in the day? Do they need frequent breaks or long periods with no interruptions? What kinds of tasks do they do best at? If you have two workers and one loves meetings and one prefers to to work alone at their desk, is there a way you can make them both more happier and more productive by assigning work accordingly, why not? So often managers look at “diversity” in terms of race or ethnicity or disability while overlooking and not leveraging the diversity that’s right in front of them.

  90. Roja*

    A phrasing I’ve used before when someone is talking about mental health and I want to hint that I get it but don’t want to share too much in the circumstances is “I understand that all too well, unfortunately” or something similar. I dunno, to me when people just say, “Oh, I understand,” you wonder if they do. But the “all too well” signals, hey, I get it, you’re safe.

  91. Jaybeetee*

    I work in a field that’s pretty good about this stuff (or at least wants to be), and some of the initiatives they’ve tried have worked out better than others. Local culture matters too – I live in an area that most consider friendly and polite, but with some decided “British stoicism” still floating around. That is, people can still be quite private about their things, and any initiative that comes across as trying to force people to share is an immediate no.

    – To that end, mental health at work should be treated like health at work. That is, need-to-know only. Someone calls in sick, they don’t need to explain what’s going on that day. You can tell people that when they start.

    – Be explicit about having a work environment that encourages breaks. Lunch breaks, coffee breaks, days off, vacations. If you have the authority, a flexible workday as opposed to a bums-in-chairs workday is also a good… dog whistle? For lack of a better word?

    – Background noise: Pride stickers, EAP flyers, domestic violence posters, etc etc. If your company offers mental health training or events, mention those in meetings.

    – In terms of things like sexuality, yeah, just drop mentions of your partner, that kind of thing.

    – It’s helpful if your company already has policies relating to at least some of these things, because then you can just do an orientation or point to a handbook.

    I fall under some of the categories you’ve mentioned, and my own preference is to keep those things quiet at work. Not out of any kind of shame or fear, but I prefer a more… distant? relationship with bosses? Apart from some commenters’ fears about having to play therapist to a neurotic boss, I don’t want to go down the road of feeling like my boss wants to be my therapist, or like I’m expected to do a lot of sharing. If I need accommodations, I’ll request them, but otherwise I prefer to keep my stuff as my stuff.

  92. From That Guy*

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Where to start? I am sure many folks have made some very good comments so I apologize in advance if I am repeating some of those thoughts, I have not read the comments as of yet. Let me weigh in:
    1. As their manager you are just that, their manager. Not their bff, therapist or life coach. You are there to make them the best employee, stress employee, they can be. Your political or social views do not enter into that equation. Treat them with dignity, humanity and respect. Period.
    2. Your statement of “power and privilege” scares me to no end. Given your youth this sadly does not surprise me. I would suggest never saying that sentence out loud to anyone anywhere again.
    3. I don’t want to know and don’t care about my bosses political, social or sexual views. That is there business, not mine. They are there to provide me feedback on how I am doing and how to be a good employee. They are my boss, with the ability to give me a raise or fire me. That is the reality of the employee – employer relationship. It is not and has never been a friendship.
    4. Certainly you can be understanding of the human condition. That goes without saying.
    5. When you show up at work concentrate on your work, not your outside social and other interests. You are being paid to do a job, do it.
    6. Best of luck in your new role.

    1. From That Guy*

      Meant to add (I did in an earlier post but it somehow did not post: do find some outside interests to express yourself and your passions.

    2. ADHD Boss*

      ADHD is not a “political or social view” or an “outside social or other interest” though. It’s an illness. Sometimes minor and well managed, sometimes not, but still and illness.

      If the LW had written asking “Hey, I have diabetes and although it’s well managed, sometimes my blood sugar affects me at work and people might notice that something is amiss…would it be wrong to let my team know that I’m diabetic?”, would you have responded the same way?

  93. Karia*

    Please be careful with this. I had a boss with MH issues – lovely, kind, friendly, successful, but she overshared about everything and it was exhausting and excruciating to be around. I felt like a cross between an involuntary best friend and unpaid counsellor, especially because she experienced my attempts to set boundaries as ‘unfriendly’ and ‘unprofessional’. Please don’t put your subordinate in this position.

    It would be really awesome if you could break down stigma outside of work though! Volunteer, speak at events, talk about your experiences with peers.

  94. lazy intellectual*

    I don’t really know a great answer to this. I have ADHD and anxiety, but I am not comfortable sharing it at work, especially to my boss/manager. I also don’t really want to hear/talk about other people’s issues – especially my boss’s! So I would NOT recommend that OP start talking about their mental health with their direct report, as they’re a captive audience and it could make them uncomfortable.

    Now, it would be nice to get to a point where neurodivergent employees/neurodirvergent traits are accepted and not discriminated against. I think even without disclosing, I present neurodivergent in a lot of ways, and a lot of my social anxiety comes from the knowledge that people might judge me negatively for it. Also, it would make it easier for people to ask for accommodations.

    But I wouldn’t make it a thing talk about your mental health issues with an audience that hasn’t opted into those types of conversations. One option could be to set up a brown bag lunch for that purpose, so people can opt in and out?

  95. Formerly GradStudent*

    Hmmm. There is a time and a place. General statements fit into more places for sure, such as, “this is a safe space,” and “if you’re struggling, let me know” followed up by actions that support those (types of statements) helps create an inclusive work environment. Things like making sure the department has things in place to recognize preferred pronouns, etc. also helps foster inclusion. Rarely, if someone is obviously struggling, sharing a personal detail might be helpful: an example would be when I landed a good internship I felt underqualified for because I’d transitioned over from an entirely unrelated industry, and my lack of confidence was resulting in decreased performance. My manager came in, we had a private meeting, she asked me what I was struggling with, and when I told her, she shared some of her early career struggles with feeling confident/qualified with me, then some strategies that had helped her. It was a really useful exchange. But obviously, she didn’t share anything deeply personal, and I didn’t either, because at the end of the day it is nice for people you work with not to have access to your personal life. My work did meet my s.o. at a black tie work event (where everyone had the option to bring an s.o. if they wanted) so just making sure in situations like that that everyone is welcome is another way of going about this (so, making sure lgbtqia+ people/partners are welcome at the event, making sure all races/religions are welcome at the event, etc.) because these are the situations where things like sexuality become apparent.

  96. Hiring Mgr*

    It sounds like the goal is to make it easy for others to be open about these things which is great. I think it’s more a “know your audience” thing to determine the exact right approach to doing that.

    OP mentions they’re a new manager, so maybe give it some time to get to know your report a bit better, then you’ll have a good sense of how to broach the topic (or not..)

  97. Lobsterp0t*

    This is great. Keep it out of your-reports focused meetings.

    But if your work does a mental health awareness blogathon- great, go for it. I chair a staff network at work and that’s a way that I share things but not in a sense of being a personal ambassador for my condition, it’s much more about bringing people together to have a common conversation and sometimes influence learning & development or policy

  98. A Thought*

    I think the best thing you can do as a manager with many of these things is model the appropriate way to bring them into the workspace.

    An example is that I had a large company I worked for and the CEO blocked off every day 11-12 to go for a run. Employees were encouraged to put into their calendar what they needed to do for their own wellness – and this came from the top down. It wasn’t an intimate conversation about what running meant to him – it was walking the walk on time management of wellness and then backing up employees doing the same.

    So for being gender questioning – add preferred pronouns to your email, ask employees their preferred pronouns to make it safe for people to choose their pronouns.

    For ADHD, be public about the accommodations that you use for ADHD (preferring things in a particular format, making your workspace quieter in a particular way, time off for doctor appointments, whatever it is) and then fight for those for your employees too and make it clear you will approve them.

    To me that’s the difference between a manager who is open vs. one who overshares. One who is open is one who uses their own circumstances to make me, their employee, more comfortable/advocated for. One who overshares is just talking for the sake of talking (some disclosures, of course, can have a place in normal friendliness – as commenters noted above, these may come up naturally in conversation!)

    1. lazy intellectual*

      I love this comment. Yes – model the types of accommodations that your workplace provides, but don’t put the spotlight on anyone.

  99. CastIrony*

    If OP was a manager, I would ask how they got to where they are after telling me they have ADHD. I have self-diagnosed ADHD (inattentive type), and we would get along swimmingly because they would understand me better, thus feeling confident enough to climb up the job ladder.

  100. Formerly Ella Vader*

    When I did positive space training as a university staff member, one of the concepts about being sensitive to the power imbalance between an instructor/staff member and an undergraduate student was not to entrust/burden the student with our secrets. That is, if a student is confiding in me about their sexual orientation or gender identity, I should resist coming out to them in return if I am not out on campus. The nonconsensual intimacy can be kind of creepy, like grooming behaviours, and it opens the door to exploitation of that vulnerability for either person.

    On the other hand, I’ve had enough supervisors who were unwilling to cut slack for messy personal life stuff that I tend to assume they’re all like that. Maybe I’d feel safer if I found out that other people in the office had standing therapy appointments or had been to credit counselling and were super matter of fact about it.

    And on the gripping hand, I don’t want to be intimate with my bosses or reports. Maybe that’s the key. Matter-of-fact isn’t intimate. Confiding is intimate. Crying is intimate.

    1. anone*

      What if one’s sexual orientation or mental health experiences aren’t a secret? Like, what if the thing is that making those things “secrets” is dehumanizing and deadly?

  101. Bees Bees Bees*

    People confuse destigmatizing with centering. Putting a lot of focus on an issue does not necessarily destigmatize it. In fact, it can make it worse – the issue becomes “this is central to discussion” instead of “this is part of life”.

    I’d recommend allowing the occasional offhand comment here and there. “Can you attend a 4pm meeting today?” “Oh, sorry, I have therapy on Thursdays at 4pm.” If you have a same-sex partner, feel free to mention them by name (or girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband/etc) when talking about your weekend plans.

    Don’t try to take up the mantle on your own. Don’t try to be ALL the representation. I did this for years, wearing pride tshirts and having rainbow/bi-colored stickers on my laptop. Your orientation or mental health issues are simply a natural part of life, but they should not define your entire personality.

  102. Scarlett10is*

    I love that people are asking/talking about this!

    I work in higher education, so mostly with students 18-22 and graduate students up to 26ish. I’ve worked to incorporate layers of normalizing self-care and protecting one’s wellbeing into our office culture, components of their job description (GA and TAs), and creating buy-in with leadership and colleagues. I’ve become known for it in my department, and sought for my tools/strategies. Higher ed in general is pretty focused on these things for students, but I’ve definitely had to fight to normalize self-care for professional staff members.

    My approach is to talk about self-care at the start of the year when discussing expectations, goals, and concerns. Then demonstrate support, compassion, and understanding when people need it. It’s all in the groundwork normalizing a safe space for people to trust you to share with you what is going on, and not punishing people for being vulnerable. I don’t require doctor’s notes for absences from my classes, and I certainly don’t pry into people’s private health concerns. If anyone has ever taken advantage of my policies, I don’t know and don’t care.

    When supervising, I think it’s important to remember that you are NOT friends, you are there to train and teach and mentor. You can certainly affirm when someone says they are having a tough time; “That sounds like a ton to navigate! Have you ever considered speaking to a professional to assist you so you don’t have to deal with all of that on your own? I’ve found it helpful and so have many other students/GAs/TAs in the past.” Or, “I’ve navigated that too. Things that I’ve found that were helpful include X, Y, Z.”

  103. Privacy Loving and Respecting Manager*

    I tend to lean hard on the side of saying as little as possible about myself and my life outside work because I’m a very private person by nature. That said, I think there is a significant difference between de-stigmatizing and oversharing in ways that create discomfort. I think a reasonable de-stigmatizing conversations with a direct report has to fit into one of four categories:

    1) Employee-Relevant Information eg. “I am leaving early next Tuesday afternoon for a therapist appointment”. Here, “therapist” is de-stigmatized, mentioned the same way as “dentist” or “doctor”, and this provides my employee with the relevant information that I will not be available on Tuesday afternoon. It is also clear that the ask is that the employee know that I am unavailable/provide coverage on Tuesday, which is a reasonable request, not that the employee provide emotional labor or manage my emotions, which would not be reasonable.

    2) Share information about benefits that the employee may not be aware of/utilizing eg. “I wanted to let you know that you can use our EAP to find providers like dentists or mental health professionals and our EAP even covers some sessions. I just called the EAP myself and the representative was helpful”.
    This provides information about the benefits that the employee may not know and de-stigmatizes mental health by mentioning alongside other health professionals. Personally, I am not sure if I would be comfortable adding the second sentence myself, but I think it would be a reasonable, de-stigmatizing, non-oversharing thing to share for a manager who does feel comfortable. The second sentence is really a review of the EAP service/normalizing the use of the EAP rather than a description of the manager’s own mental health.

    3) PSA about company-wide programming for Mental Health Awareness Month, Pride Month, etc. eg. “Company is doing XYZ for Mental Health Awareness Month or Pride Month. If you have suggestions or ideas for something we can do as a department, let myself or CompanyEventCoordinator know.”
    Similar to #2, this provides information about company initiatives that employee might not be aware of and encourages participation.

    4) A short line in normal casual conversation eg. “My weekend was good. ClearlySameSexPartner’sName and I took our kids to the beach.” This is a normal conversation for a manager and an employee to have about their weekends and there is no reason for me to hide my same sex partner and kids. I don’t think there is any need for me to explain how ClearlySameSexPartner and I have kids (and I think it would hugely inappropriate for me to share or for employee to ask), but there is no reason to hide the existence of a same sex partner and children.

  104. designbot*

    One thing that stands out reading through the comments is how many people I see saying that OP shouldn’t talk about her problems to her direct report. That refer to having ADHD as struggling, or mention ‘bad mental health days.’ To me this is part of the problem. You’re assuming struggle, you’re assuming it’s a problem, you’re equating neurodivergence with illness. Being neurodivergent does not automatically mean you’re struggling, that your condition is a problem, or that you have bad mental health. From someone with ADHD, that’s really frustrating to read.
    An ADHD diagnosis can mean greater personal understanding, can mean greater support, can really help someone shape their habits and communications in ways that play to their strengths instead of fight with them. It does not automatically mean they have a problem or are a problem. Sharing this information and NOT expressing it as a problem to be solved or a disability is sorely needed specifically to check those assumptions.

    1. computer10*

      I feel like there is such a thing as toxic ableism. As someone with a permanent chronic disability I don’t want to pretend like everything is fine and it’s just a ‘difference.’ I have a life altering disability, it sucks, it’s not just a difference and if there was a cure I’d take it. I hope they genetically engineer this crap out of the human system.

      1. computer10*

        I mean toxic positive disability or some such. The idea that we can make rainbows out of everyone’s disability.

      2. designbot*

        I hear you, and it can definitely be taken too far. But the number of comments that assume any mention of ADHD is inviting employees into OP’s problems, or putting it on them to “fix” OP, or automatically means OP is “struggling” is really overwhelming and takes it all the way in the other direction with the assumptions. Reality is that it’s a spectrum where some folks are super impacted and others are very well controlled and there’s people at every step in between, and people who go through different stages at different times. It CAN be a problem, it can be a disability. But it isn’t automatically that, and nothing that OP has written indicates that it is for her.

  105. computer10*

    The problem with people who share their personal problems is they often assume if someone doesn’t share back then they don’t have any problems. The original sharer can then get very, ‘me and my problems, you’re so lucky’ and lord it over the non sharer.

    If OP wants to share that’s fine, just don’t assume those who don’t are perfectly fine too.

    I once worked in a workplace where some of the people would share their problems. People who didn’t share back were assumed not have any. It was toxic and the oversharers would make the most out of being the people with problems and often patronise those who supposedly didn’t have problems. Statements like, ‘you don’t know what it’s like blah blah blah.’ We do, we just don’t share.

  106. Chickaletta*

    I think the basic thing is to share information, however and whatever it is, in a way that doesn’t place a burdon on your employee. It’s not their job to check on your wellbeing, to comfort you, to provide advice or opinions. It’s also not their job to make the work environment comfortable for you (they shouldn’t be hosile or argumentative, but it’s not up to them to manage other people’s reactions or proactively make the workplace LGBTQ friendly by being asked to schedule Pride events or hang propaganda or organize LGBTQ seminars for the office – that falls on management and HR – if that makes any sense). It also shouldn’t make them concerned for their job security or responsibilities, whether that’s out of misplaced concern about your mental health or whether they haven’t aligned yet all the way with the kind of openness you’re hoping to create or whatever. Hopefully this all makes sense.

    From there, what you share, when, where, how, all stems from this, your workplace culture, and your own personality.

  107. SS Express*

    I think the best way to be supportive about these things is to be casual and matter-of-fact, rather than going out of your way to announce anything.

    Just act like of course people have mental health issues and other chronic illnesses and are LGBTQIA+ and whatever else and you’re happy to support it but it’s also no big deal, just like it’s no big deal to get left-handed scissors or (hopefully) give someone access to a room where they can pump. Make it easy for people to take time off for illness or appointments and make it clear they don’t have to provide any details or “proof”. Say “August was really hectic so I encourage everyone to take some time off now if they want to, our work can be stressful so it’s important to look after your mental health – I’ll be having Friday off” just like you would say “it’s cold and flu season so cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze and don’t come in if you’re sick”. If someone says “my partner is in night school” say “what are they studying?” instead of assuming gender.

    You can mention specific things if they come up naturally (“oh your kid was just diagnosed with ADHD? I have ADHD and I know it was hard for my parents to navigate at first – no problem taking time off for his appointments, and let me know if you ever have questions!”) but in general I think most people don’t want to know too many details of their boss’s personal life. For me that actually contributes to stigma by making these things seem like a big deal that you have to disclose.

  108. Jennifer Juniper*

    All I’d need from you, OP, are your pronouns. If you share your pronouns with me, I’ll remember them forever. If they change, please inform people. Don’t expect others to follow you on social media to keep track of pronoun changes.

  109. Bee*

    I’m surprised at the pushback from a lot of people. I personally have a diagnosis (bipolar 1) that means I’m not always well enough to keep the stoic professional persona up. I manage it and minimize it, but my wider team know that I have a significant diagnosis that may sometimes impact my functioning, and my manager is privy to my safekeeping plan. It shouldn’t be a day one conversation with your employee, but it’s not a shameful secret, either.

  110. Essaien*

    Something I have some relevant experience with! I’m non-binary (not out at work), queer, autistic and have MH problems. I’m not a manager, but I do have a senior position over a number of others. In trying to navigate this situation I’ve been finding a balance of general information without sharing precise details. For example, “I’ve had a change of meds so might be a bit weird this week!”. Another thing that seems to work well with others is not putting a specific name to things, or using analogy.
    So on days where I’m struggling to focus/overwhelmed, I’ve had success with a light “My brain is fizzing up a storm today! Thanks for being patient”. This is backed up with empathetic actions – the MH ‘spidey sense’ can come in handy for prompting discreet check-ins. Again, no guessing at names/diagnoses, just “You seem really stressed, anything I can do to help?” and potentially seeing if I can shuffle the workload around. It’s fostered a better atmosphere in general. Good luck!

  111. mynameisasecret*

    Telling the truth about my life will always hurt my professionalism and make people uncomfortable, and that’s painful. The idea that my personality and life experiences are not ‘work appropriate’ is painful.
    If I disclose my mental illnesses and trauma history to someone, it’s definitely not because I want them to solve my problems. It’s SO not about them. It’s because I’m saying: “This is who I am. These are my boundaries and limitations. This is what you get.” And it’s to protect myself. If people think they will get ‘something else’ out of me by pushing my boundaries, I will explain bluntly but vaguely what will happen if they keep doing that. I like to say “that is not clinically indicated for me.”
    I sometimes think about finding a more trauma-informed workplace, but my main plan going forward is to immediately leave any workplace that is making my mental illnesses worse. I used to think there were times / organizations / missions / clients that could make it worth it. There aren’t. Every day is hard for me, so if you threaten my survival, I’m gone.

  112. E*

    I have bipolar disorder. I don’t want to hear about it at work. A manager being understanding is one thing. A manager sharing their own issues is inappropriate. It’s not the manager’s job to destigmatize mental illness. Leave your employee alone.

    1. E*

      I will also add that a *lot* of people commenting here have labeled themselves or others as “q*eer”. OP should avoid this because most LGBT people consider that word to be a slur.

  113. Galahad*

    Just being there and being a good manager is really all that you need to do. Show that being a diverse person is a non-issue for being a professional in your field, by making it a non-issue.

    As for hidden diversity / mental health, just turn it into a matter of fact comment when it comes up, (such as for your employees, being supportive of their leaves, promoting them after, or you can mention why you have repeated dr appoints, briefly, like you would if you are getting B vitamin shots).

    Others will figure out the details, even if it takes several years, and in the meantime, you will be a magnet and a model for other diverse candidates, while having the rest of your organization getting used to it being “normal” to work with POC / LGBTQ / Mental Health / Disability, etc. persons as managers. Non-issue.

Comments are closed.