Should I Disclose My Mental Illness on a Job Application?
Should you disclose your mental illness on a job application? When dealing with our mental illnesses, it can be difficult to open up even to our friends and families. Those relationships are typically strong enough to withstand the disclosure of issues that we are having and things we need to help fight them. So what do we do with our professional relationships when we have a mental health disability? When should you disclose your mental illness to an employer?
For so many of us in dealing with mental illness, unemployment periods are common. I have been in that place on a few occasions myself, having spiraled out of control while employed, and needing a break from that (whether it is one I chose willingly or was forced upon me) in order to re-center. A job search is a stressful proposition, and during the application process, the question hits us like a ton of bricks: do you have any disabilities that will require accommodations to be made?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are not allowed to discriminate based on an answer to this question and, if hiring you, will be required to make "reasonable accommodations" to work with you and your mental illness (or any other disability). This can include the ability to work remotely some or all of the time, access to a private workspace, ability to listen to music at the workplace, or even breaks for meditation or exercise. Obviously, these all must be negotiated with an employer, and these are just examples of things that have, to my knowledge, been found reasonable in the past.
This all sounds great, right? However, this is a scary proposition for many of us, given the stigma of mental illness, and our overwhelming desire to not have that negatively affect our professional relationships.
Furthermore, while it is illegal to discriminate based on the disclosure, it would be nearly impossible to prove that as the reason for being rejected from a potential position in the first place (Disclosing Mental Illness at Work, or How to Get Fired). And, since some industries are fairly tight communities, you might not just be a name on an application, but someone who is known. What is to prove that, though illegal, a hiring manager in seeing that disclosure did not mention it to someone else? Again, this is a scary thought.
The Legal Answer to 'Should I Disclose My Mental Illness on a Job Application?'
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has some thoughts. They state on their website, that:
"the ADA does not require that an applicant inform an employer about the need for a reasonable accommodation at any particular time, so this information need not be volunteered on an application form or in an interview."
So what should you do? Should you check the disability box on an application? This is a very personal decision. I, for instance, have never voluntarily disclosed my bipolar disorder. An attorney acquaintance of mine who contributed to this story has severe anxiety and has also never voluntarily disclosed that. (This person's name will be kept confidential for fear of that getting out.)
To be fair, I have also not opened up about my disorder at any point in my professional life, and also never had a position last more than two years before I was unable to balance both the job and my personal emotional stability, so take this with a grain of salt. Perhaps if I had disclosed and obtained reasonable accommodations, that would not be the case. Or perhaps I never would have gotten the positions to begin with.
If you decide to disclose your illness and feel you have been discriminated against, seek the advice of an attorney, as ADA violations are fairly thoroughly investigated.
Berg, J. (2018, April 11). Should I Disclose My Mental Illness on a Job Application?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2018/04/should-i-disclose-my-mental-illness-on-a-job-application