Should You Disclose Mental Illness in the Workplace?
If you live with a mental illness, you have probably found yourself wondering if you should talk to your potential or current employer about your illness. It's hard. We all want to be viewed-- especially within our chosen occupations--as competent and talented. We do not want to be labelled, or defined as living with a mental illness. We don't want to be only "a person with a mental illness."
Stigma and Disclosing Mental Illness at Work
So, let's assume you're on the road to mental health recovery and can capably work. But we both know a chronic mental illness can come back - you can have a mental health relapse.
I wish I could tell you mental health stigma in the workplace does not exist and that if you were to be truthful about your mental illness it would be well received. Maybe you would be given some extra vacation days, a patronizing pat on the back or a damn cake congratulating you--not that any of these options are particularly desirable. But I cannot tell you it will be well received. And that's what makes it really hard.
You have two options (let me know if we have more!): Be open and have an honest dialogue with your employer or keep your mental illness to yourself. Living with a mental illness is personal, and it is not something we share with everyone, but in the workplace we might want to make an exception (Is Not Disclosing Mental Illness Perpetuating Stigma?).
Are You Obligated to Tell Your Employer about Your Mental Illness?
No, I don't think so, but that's just my opinion. I've had jobs in which I kept it to myself and when I fell into depression, well, I said I was having bad migraines. Things are different now. I think I would be open about it but I would certainly not feel obligated.
We all experience mental illness differently and this should be taken into account when deciding whether or not to inform our employer or co-workers we trust. If you suffer with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, for example, and your mood changes more often then it's probably in your best interest--and your employer--to be honest.
It's a choice we all make at some point and it should be based on our recovery. That comes first!
Photo from Not Myself Today (mental health in business website worth checking out)
Jeanne, N. (2012, November 1). Should You Disclose Mental Illness in the Workplace?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2012/11/mental-illness-in-the-workplace
Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne
I did tell my employer about my mental illness and they try to fire me when they asked me to come to the office I was in the hospital I ended up resigning my position
I did tell my employer about my mental illness and and they try to fire me when they asked me to come to the office I was in the hospital I ended up resigning my position
I am a french nurse, I can speak English but I make mistakes sometimes when I write so forgive me in advance for the mispelled or bad sentences. I have worked in the psychiatry ward at an hospital for 3 years. Since three years, I've been working in another medical ward which necessitate more physical care than mental care. Recently, I postulated for a job as a mental health nurse in the community, I got an interview and finally, they offered me the job because I guess I had the competences for that job. During that same period, I was dealing with an exacerbating phase of anxiety because I had stopped my medication six months ago in an attempt of becoming pregnant. I wrote something on my personal page of facebook about my anxiety that gave me a hard time working and someone printed the content of my personal page of facebook and showed it to my new boss. She did not want me anymore for the job and she gave the job to another candidate. I was so frustrated and sad because I knew that even though I suffer from an anxiety disease, I still have the competences and the qualities to do the job. My condition worsened because I was crying almost every day and I became depressed because of that injustice that I felt was so unfair. I couldn't believe that someone working in the mental health specialty could actually refuse to give the job to a nurse just because she suffers from anxiety! I thought that these persons would be able to better understand health problems with their employers but I was wrong! Even though I have been already tired at work for a couple of months before that incident happened, I only took two weeks of sick absence and I started to take back my pills for anxiety (an antidepressant) and insomnia. I returned back to work even though I didn't feel I was ready because I just wanted to satisfy my current employer and I was afraid to have a bad assiduity evaluation (in that hospital, the assiduity is very important). So, I got the motivation from the money I would make while working and I worked for another three months even though I was becoming very tired and I was sleeping very more often, which is not in my habits since I've always been a very busy person because I have been studying part-time in a master program since September 2008 while working part-time also. I was becoming another person at my job. I used to be a really patient nurse, polite and respectful and I became someone easily irritable, frustrated and impolite. The overload of work, the refusal of the employer to have more staff juste to save money, the stress of having to care for an elevated number of patients that are instable, the incapacity of taking my breaks and lunch time, the intimidation of some other colleagues at work plus having to do overtime almost every day and having to fight with the nurses union almost everytime to get paid took all of my energy. I felt that I've always been giving more than 100% at each shift while working and I never had anything in return, not even some gratitude from my boss even though I knew for sure that my job was perfectly done because I've always been perfectionnist and I'd be willing to do anything to help my patients. I only got bad consequences: I lost a job because of my anxiety, I had complaints from my boss that my clinic notes were too long (she thought that was the reason for my overtime) ans some colleagues began to do some intimidation on me. Two months ago, I learned that I was one month pregnant while at the same time I got the job I had applied for in the medical ward. I got out of control one day at work because the load of patients I had was very heavy, one patient needed one-on-one care and I couldn't take care of the other patients as much as they needed, I thought it was dangerous and I got into the office of my boss and exploded. I've been on sick absence since then and I will not return to work until my maternity leave will be over. I have suffered from insomnia in the first months of my pregnancy and I still have some episodes of insomnia right now, I don't have energy, I feel tired most of the time, I still have a lot of frustration towards my job, I suffer from nightmares about all kinds of situations happening at work almost every night and most of all, I lost the motivation and the pride for my profession. I think I suffer from a burn-out but my psychiatrist didn't tell me any diagnosis, he just suggested me to do some counselling with a psychologue but I doubt that a psychologue can really help me change my feelings toward my job. I guess that if I'm doing a burn-out and that my employer learns that information, that will have even more consequences on my job. I learned my lesson once and for all, I will never tell any future employer for sure about my anxiety problems neither about my burn-out!
I have not told my boss about my mental illness. I believe that I would loose my job if I did. It's only part time but still. I am looking for another job to go with it and I have told my job counselor about my mental illnes.
I did tell at my current job- when my moods got so bad that other people noticed, I had to explain. Thankfully, people were supportive. Then I had to tell again (that it was more serious) when I took a leave of absence. I am back now, so far people are not making a big deal about it, and neither am I. It really isn't relevant most of the time, so I don't talk about it. I think there is some stigma for having a mental illness- but the bigger stigma is for not being able to do your job. If you are not functioning, it really doesn't matter what the reason is, they won't want you there long. And if you can do your job, people will be less judgmental about your illness.
I do not think it is a good Idea to let your employer know about your mental illness. Even though you may have a good reltionship with your boss MH has carries negative stagma and you will be seen as "that person with issues".
I feel the same usually but I like to think that attitudes are changing. More education on mental illness for employers would be beneficial. Thanks for your comment!
This is a great article and a very good question that people struggle with. The answer is not a simple one. The laws differ everywhere, but as far as I know, no one is obligated to disclose and no employer is allowed to ask "Do you have a disability?" Disclosure, and to what degree, is a personal choice, but it is only fair to let an employer know if something will interfere with your work. In most cases, an employer should be made to accommodate you unless they can prove undue hardship. I'd recommend checking out "Accommodations" and/or the "Human Rights Code" for exact details in your area. But regardless, disclosing is still a challenge and personal decision. I personally am one for honesty, but you have to prepare yourself for any consequences, and choose your words wisely.
I'm very lucky, as I am working in the mental health/addictions field. I find that the people I do disclose to (mainly my supervisors) are very accepting of my limitations and supportive of my overall health, allowing me to take time off if necessary.
I work in the mental health field, and still had a hard time getting the time off for my own treatment. The APRN I see completed FMLA paperwork for me as a protection, though she advised me to think about these very issues... It was one thing for them to know I needed time for a mh appointment, but it was another handing them my diagnosis. In the end I opted not to submit the papers. For me I have found it helpful to discuss in my supervision in my own struggles may impact the work, or vice versa; but not sure I would want it as part of my official, or unofficial record to be bent at will.
Hi Natalie! I'm currently an unemployed teacher, with gaps in employment. I really don't want to tell new employers that I'm bipolar. I might tell them that I had a few bouts with depression, and am doing well. Somehow I think that depression would be more acceptable than bipolar. Perhaps that's not the right way to look at it. Ultimately it comes down to telling what you are safe or comfortable with disclosing. It's always a personal choice, but not an easy choice.
This one really hit home for me,as I'm possibly attempting to return to the workforce soon. My disorders can be quite severe (Agoraphobia/Social Anxiety). I honestly don't know if, or for how long, I'll be able to maintain employment, but I have a family to support... so I have to try. There's always the option of collecting a disability claim, but it's such a long, hard road --riddled with stigma, and disbelief. Who wants to prove how crazy they are, over and over again, with no guarantee you'll be able to support your family in the end. Personally, when I do return to the workforce, I think I'll keep my ailments to myself.