Should You Talk About Your Bipolar at Work?
The decision to disclose your bipolar at work is an important one. You may feel unsure of whether or not you should speak to your employer about your illness, or worried that you could face professional or personal repercussions for speaking up. There are risks to talking about bipolar at work, as well as potential benefits.
I have personally grappled with the fear and anxiety of revealing my bipolar diagnosis to a manager. My work performance was suffering because of symptoms that were out of my control, and I agonized for weeks over whether or not the embarrassment and potential consequences were worth it. In the end, I decided to take the gamble as I felt that my work performance could improve if I was allowed a reduced-distraction environment.
Fortunately for me, I had a boss who was understanding and empathetic, and we were able to work out some accommodations that worked for both of us. Unfortunately, this scenario is not always the case for folks who work with bipolar disorder.
Weigh the Risks and Benefits of Disclosing Your Bipolar at Work
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against an employee simply on the grounds that they have a disability -- and that includes mental illness.1 Unfortunately, some employers may choose to ignore the law and come up with an excuse to let an employee go (or refuse to hire a qualified candidate) after learning about candidate's disability. At the very least, you may be treated differently, such as being passed up for a promotion or challenging project.
It's a sad reality, but it is something to consider if you're thinking of discussing your bipolar with your boss. Do you have an amicable relationship with your manager? Do they seem like they would be open to working with you to provide reasonable accommodations? What will you do if a disclosure backfires?
Before you make your decision, take some time to think about why you're considering disclosing your bipolar diagnosis to your employer in the first place. If you feel like you could benefit from accommodations in the workplace (such as working on certain tasks in a private meeting room to reduce distractibility) it might be to your benefit to take it up with your manager. If the situation is more external, like overhearing co-workers using ableist language or making jokes about mental illness or disability, it might be more prudent to make a report to the appropriate supervisor without disclosing your own diagnosis: there is no need to unnecessarily make yourself a potential target for discrimination or harassment.
On the other hand, making an informed choice to talk about your bipolar at work can also have positive outcomes for yourself and others. When I talked with my old boss about my diagnosis, not only did I receive the accommodations I needed to function at work, but he also asked for my input on how he could be a better manager to employees with mental health challenges. The more we talk about mental health, the more we destigmatize the subject and make it easier for folks to get help and live their best lives. However, you should always weigh the pros and cons for your personal situation and prioritize your own needs before making the decision to disclose your bipolar diagnosis at work.
Should I Tell My Coworkers About My Bipolar?
Personally, I make it a rule to keep all of my working relationships strictly work-related. It minimizes the risk of unnecessary drama in the workplace, and I think that this is especially important for those of us trying to navigate working around a mental illness.
Is there any real benefit you stand to gain from letting your coworkers in on your diagnosis? If you feel the need to talk to someone about your struggles with bipolar, you'd be much better off confiding in a trusted friend or relative -- and, of course, your psychiatrist or therapist.
Disclosing Your Diagnosis Is Your Decision
Ultimately, disclosing your bipolar diagnosis at work is an incredibly personal choice. Only you can decide whether or not it's the right choice based on your own work situation. You should never feel pressured to reveal your bipolar disorder to anyone. Remember that you are your own best advocate - sometimes that means speaking up, and sometimes it means keeping things private. It's up to you.
Have you ever had to make the decision to talk about your bipolar at work? What was the experience like for you? Feel free to share in the comments.
- U.S. Department of Labor, "Americans with Disabilities Act." Accessed August 4, 2020.
Rose, N. (2020, August 5). Should You Talk About Your Bipolar at Work?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/workandbipolarordepression/2020/8/should-you-talk-about-your-bipolar-at-work