How to be Honest About Mental Health at Work

A couple of weeks ago I had to bump my meeting twice, and it really bugged me.

Not because I had a more important meeting. Not because I had another meeting run late. Not because something better came up and I had to lie about why I couldn’t attend my meeting in the first place.

No, I had to bump my meeting three times because I was getting burnt out. I was getting down on myself. And when your mental fatigue and energy go, so do your thoughts.

I was embarrassed, ashamed, and I was honest about it.

When I was able to connect with my friend, as most of us will do, I started to apologize multiple times for having to reschedule but then something cool happened.

My friend said to me “Ah man, it’s no big deal! You were super authentic about it and just told it how it was. I get it!”.

And that was a shocker – even to me.

You see, I speak very openly about mental health. I would say I am regularly the most open on my Instagram posts, but whether I am taking the stage for a keynote speech, or just trying to communicate with someone, I am always trying to be as real as I can.

Especially in a world where we are afraid to admit struggle while dealing with business, it’s hard to be up front about your struggles.

To give you an example, I thought I would share with you some excerpts from my emails back and forth to give you insight in how to communicate honestly about when you need a break, and hopefully you can use it in your own way.

After having plans scheduled and a “check in to confirm” from my friend, here was my first cancellation email:

Good morning!

Thank you for checking in – the same thing was on my mind last night.

I have not been feeling very well these past few days and have been trying to power through it, but as I was calling it a night last night I was going to check in and see if we can please bump our meeting back one week to next Friday morning? Would that work for you? Same time and place?

I am up early today but just not doing well. I’d really be best to give myself some time to recover. I’m sorry for the last minute notice.

I hope next Friday can work for you. I’m really looking forward to seeing you.

It’s nothing profound, but it’s honest about the struggle and more than a one sentence “Can we please reschedule?” email.

Then after I had some time off, leading in to the rescheduled meeting, I had to make a decision again, but chose to email my fiend first this time with some notice:

Good morning!

You’ve been on my mind again and I want to reach out earlier this time. 

After feeling ill last week I took off from the city and headed for Tobermory. I have been here for the last three days for a vacation and to be honest, don’t want to come home just yet. 

I decided on Monday I would take the whole week off and come home Thursday/Friday, but would love to venture down to Grand Bend for a few days instead as this is my one and only chance to do so until likely next summer.

Please forgive me, as I am wondering if one more time we can reschedule to the following Friday, September 6th? The long weekend will be over, summer will be over, and I can’t afford to be gone any longer then as well. :p

I can come to you, wherever is most convenient for you. Thank you so much for understanding, I really appreciate it.

Again, pretty simple, but it’s honest about needing some extra time away.

When I speak, I speak on The Hero Mindset which is about focusing on the small things that make a big difference. When I came about after I returned home from the Paralympics. After my keynotes, people would always say to me “I could never do what you do.” and The Hero Mindset was born.

Here is what I want you to take away from this article.

One: Recognize Your Hero Moment

Recognize when your Hero Moment happens, which in this case would be when you notice yourself starting to feel burnt out, getting down on yourself, and burning the candle at both ends for too long.

It might be when you start to experience chronic fatigue, tension headaches, mood swings, dizziness or confusion, yet you try to power through your workday after day until you reach a point where you can’t take it anymore.

That’s when it’s too late.

Your Hero Moment has to be when you catch yourself falling into a downward spiral. You take a step back, pause, and recognize that moment either through self-reflection when you are on the streetcar going home, if you are riding the elevator, or you can’t get out of bed in the morning and you make a Hero Decision and decide to do something about it.

Two: Make a Hero Decision

What is a Hero Decision?

It’s a decision to do the hard thing. Admitting that you need a break at work could be your Hero Decision. 

Perhaps you are an overachiever, a top performer, an executive, a new recruit, a student… either way it can be scary for you to be up front about some of these challenges, but nobody will know you are struggling unless you say so.

The fear of how your colleagues will view you will hold you back. You will find yourself talking yourself out of it, saying things like “I’ve got this. It’s not that big of a deal.”, yet if you did “Have this” you wouldn’t be struggling the way you are right now.

Deciding to ask for help or take a break might mean dealing with your own ego, and that is the obstacle to overcome.

How do you overcome your ego in this situation? By taking Hero Action.

Three: Take Hero Action

What does taking Hero Action look like?

In my case as an entrepreneur, I have been building The Sledge Hockey Experience from my home office. I don’t have colleagues to see every day so I had to step back from my own place of residence and get away for a few days, and not bring work with me.

That was a huge step for me, because all I wanted to do was bring work with me on my vacation to catch up! Most of us will grab work anyway, but the action of leaving your work at home is a big move.

That is taking Hero Action.

If you are in the workplace, it might mean connecting with HR or your People Manager to see what resources they have available to you. Morneau Shepell is a fantastic resource who can help with Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) if there is something going on at home that might be affecting you in the workplace. 

LifeWorks is another solution as an online digital tool that works in conjunction with other EFAP services and connect you to support through live chat, text, and email.

For more simple strategies, I prefer to use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques such as meditating through the Headspace App. It can be hard to convince yourself to sit and listen to the app, but I am telling you it is a total game changer in my life.

Going for a walk, hanging with friends (reconnecting), getting to the gym, getting a good meal back in you, these are all Hero Action steps that you can take and will contribute towards your overall wellbeing.

They can’t fix things overnight for you, but they are simple actionable steps that you can take today to begin a new road.

In Closing

Being the hero of your own movie may not sound sexy at first, but it’s in the daily Hero Moments, Hero Decisions, and Hero Actions that we take that determine our destiny.

That’s having a Hero Mindset.

You have to be the one to step up if you want to see something change, and if you are struggling to be honest about your mental health at work, change can happen in something as simple as deciding to prioritize your health first, and how you write your email.


Paralympian, keynote speaker, and founder of the corporate team building program, The Sledge Hockey Experience, Kevin help people change their perspective about life and people with disabilities.


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