Should You Disclose Bipolar Disorder to Your Employer?
I was on the radio recently as a guest of Dr. Stan Frager on WGTK, and he asked about depression or bipolar disorder disclosure to an employer. Although many people think they are familiar with bipolar disorder these days due to the attention it has received in the media, by and large they have the wrong idea about it. Mental health stigma on the news and in the media show mental illness to be something it usually is not. So my answer to whether you should disclose bipolar disorder to your employer has to be... If you do not need to be accommodated while at work, I recommend don't disclose. When approaching supervisors try using the statement of “I work best when...” I believe its best not to give other people information they do not need.
Disclose Bipolar to Employer on a NTK Basis
As a contractor in the television business, I work different locations all the time with different crews of people. I may work with these people for two or three days and never to be seen again. I have one crew I regularly work with that does know my condition, but I have worked with them 4 or 5 times a year and have been teaming up for 20 years. These people deserve to know about my illness because they know and watch over me if a situation calls for it (thankfully it hasn't). One of the issues of disclosure is keeping your illness as secret may be more stressful than telling the truth and being able to ask for help when and if needed.
Bipolar, Stigma and Violence
Discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness stem from the mind of the general public linking mental illness and violence. There is a general belief that people with mental illness are dangerous. This stigma leads many to avoid living, socializing or working with or employing people with mental illness. This link is often promoted by the entertainment and news media.
According to Mental Health America, reports that characters in prime time television are portrayed as having a mental illness are depicted as the most dangerous of all demographics group. Most news and media accounts portray people with mental illness as dangerous. News stories focus on the negative characteristics related to the people with mental illness.
Notably absent are positive stories that highlight recovery of people with mental illness. Therefore, most citizens believe persons with mental illness, bipolar and depression included, are dangerous. The vast majority of Americans believe that persons with mental illness pose a threat for violence towards others and themselves.
Disclose Bipolar to Your Employer at Your Own Risk
Someone once stated that “Both individually and as social being, we have have an irrepressible desire to judge before we understand.” Many people “know” about bipolar these days due to the antagonistic attention it has received in the media. Are you willing to stand up to anyone and let them know not everyone with bipolar disorder is dangerous? Violent behavior is nearly the same percentage of bipolar sufferers as is “normal” people.
There may be an elephant in the workplace, many people would prefer to ignore the problem or keep it a secret. You are not alone, you are not the only person with bipolar disorder. Bipolar and depression are chronic illnesses. It is something you have, it is not something you are. As in most illnesses, you can have it and still feel well -- but for how long? There may come a time when counseling, understanding and a trusted adviser at work may be the best thing for continuing at the workplace. It is a tough spot to disclose or not. Only you can determine if, to who and when disclosure occurs.
Zawistowski, P. (2011, February 9). Should You Disclose Bipolar Disorder to Your Employer?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/workandbipolarordepression/2011/02/disclose-or-not-disclose
Author: Peter Zawistowski
The third (most recent) was during low phase after diagnosis and related to an extended period of below average performance. The disclosure, to my mind, did not fetch me any special consideration.