Should You Tell Your Employer You Have A Mental Illness?
How to Disclose Mental Illness at Your Workplace
While you are not required to disclose a disability to an employer, doing so may protect your rights to any accommodations you may need.Receiving accommodations is a major reason why people chose to disclose mental illness at the workplace. However, you may fear discrimination or stigmatization as a result of disclosing. If you feel ready to talk about mental illness at your workplace, make a plan and decide who to tell when you’re ready to disclose. Carefully consider whether or not disclosing your condition to your employer is something you want to do before you do it because disclosing your mental illness cannot be undone.
Assessing Reasons to Disclose
Consider your motivations.No one can force you to disclose anything that you do not want to. Think about what might be beneficial in disclosing your mental illness. For example, you may want or need workplace accommodations. You might find it stressful to ‘hide’ your disability. Think about possible benefits of disclosing your mental illness as well as potential drawbacks.
- If you want protection under the law, disclosing your mental illness can help protect your legal rights. However, keep in mind that there have been cases where employers have found other reasons to terminate an employee following their disclosure of a mental illness. Consider the risks versus the potential benefits in your situation.
- You might want to disclose if your mental health may affect your role or your relationships with colleagues.
- Some jobs may put you at a disadvantage if you disclose, such as government jobs, security jobs, or childcare. Carefully consider your decision to disclose.
Adjust your workload.Shifting your schedule may be one of the major accommodations you ask for, but you may also consider asking for these accommodations without disclosing your mental illness first. If working full-time isn’t helpful to your mental health, work with your employer to adjust your working hours. Adjusting your work hours can help you minimize sick days and maximize productivity at work.You can also ask for fewer projects or to minimize your side-projects.
- If you’re struggling with your workload or duties as a result of your mental health and your employer is unwilling to accommodate you, then this may be a good reason to disclose your mental illness.
Assess workplace dangers.The only time it is absolutely necessary to disclose a mental illness is if it can cause danger to you or others. For example, if your mental illness (or resulting medication) makes it unsafe for you to operate machinery, it is important to disclose this to your employer. If your mental illness makes it difficult for you to make decisions or respond properly at your job, you may wish to disclose.
- Having a safe workplace is important to all employees and employers. If your mental illness jeopardizes anyone’s safety, disclose it.
Change your working environment.Disclosing your mental illness at work can help to change the work climate, or it may seriously backfire, so it is important to carefully asses your work environment before you decide to disclose a mental illness. In the best case scenario, disclosing may help to minimize rumors or gossip among co-workers, help others who may have mental illness feel more comfortable at work, help to change others’ attitudes toward mental illness, and increase understanding from co-workers if changes occur.
- While it’s not your responsibility to change people’s attitudes toward mental illness, you can take a stand at your workplace as someone who is not ashamed to talk about mental health. However, keep in mind that things may not go as well as you hoped, and disclosing may even worsen your work environment.
Consider not disclosing.Many people chose not to disclose their mental health diagnoses at work. Your mental health may not interfere with your ability to do your job and you may not require accommodations. You might be worried about stigma or discrimination or limited opportunities to move up in your job. While problems with mental health may pass, the related stigma may stick around.
- Some people want extra support at work while others feel adequately supported by friends, family, and a therapist.
Decide who to tell.When deciding to talk to your employer about mental illness, choose who to tell. You may want to tell your manager, co-workers, team members, or mentor. When thinking about who to tell, think of a few questions to ask yourself first. First, “Does this person need to know?” You may also ask yourself, “Do I have good rapport with this person and do I feel supported by them?” Ask yourself, “Do I feel comfortable talking to this person about personal matters?” Finally, ask yourself, “Do I trust this person to keep this confidential and private?”
- Carefully consider who to tell and why you should tell them. Your discussions may be different with different people and your level of disclosure may vary.
Decide how specific you want to be.You don’t have to tell your employer that you have depression or bipolar disorder unless you want to. Instead, you can use vague or general terms such as saying, “I have a disability” or “I have a medical condition.” If you want, you can refer to mental illness by saying, “I have a mental illness” or “I have a psychiatric disorder.” If you chose, you may mention your actual diagnosis by saying, “I have an anxiety disorder” or “I was diagnosed with PTSD.”
Discussing Your Mental Illness
Set up a meeting.Once you’ve decided who to speak with and what to say, arrange a meeting with the person or people. Don’t walk in unannounced or ask for a moment of their time; make sure to allow plenty of talk for a discussion that isn’t rushed. Make sure it’s a good time for the other person and that they are not distracted by other work concerns.
- Allow for plenty of time for a lengthy discussion should you need it.
Speak with your employer.Once you feel properly prepared to talk to your employer, start the conversation, one-on-one.It can be difficult to know how to begin, so think of an introduction ahead of time. You may even want to write down certain talking points you’d like to go over to make sure you cover everything you’d like to speak about in your meeting.
- Start the conversation by saying, “I value this job and the position I have here. It’s important for me to be honest about some things that may affect my performance, which is why I wanted to talk to you about my mental health.”
- It is a good idea to role play what you will say to your employer with a friend or family member to help you feel more confident going into the conversation.
Discuss your accommodations.Once you’ve determined what is best and most helpful, bring it up to your employer and ask for what you need at your workplace. For example, you may ask for a smaller workload or to work fewer hours each week. Talk about why these accommodations are necessary and how they will help you at your job. Talk about what support you may need or what changes need to occur to assist you in recovery.
- For example, say, “Because of my panic disorder, I sometimes feel overwhelmed at work and would like a smaller workload. This can help me focus on the task at hand and deliver good work instead of becoming overwhelmed and panicked.”
- Speak with your HR department on how to file a request for accommodations. Fill out this form and put all requests into writing. You may wish to include recommendations from a medical doctor or therapist.
Get some documentation.If you request specific accommodations, you may be required to provide your employer with some documentation from a treating professional, such as a medical doctor, psychologist, or mental health therapist. Because mental health problems are “invisible disabilities,” your employer may want some proof of your disability. This can be as easy as asking your mental health provider to write a letter stating that you have a mental health disability and are requesting accommodations at work.
- If you are uncomfortable disclosing your mental illness, have your mental health provider write a vague letter saying that you are requesting specific accommodations due to a disability.
- Do not volunteer to give this information to your employer. Only provide the information if they specifically request it.
Make changes.Once you and your employer have agreed on reasonable accommodations and you have gotten everything that you have agreed upon in writing, implement the changes. You may need accommodations long-term or for a brief period of time. If you need to make changes to your accommodations, speak with your employer and come to an agreement of what would be best. Make adjustments as you need to and monitor your progress.
- For example, you may cut back your hours and excel at your job as a result. As time goes on, you may want to steadily increase your hours if you feel ready to do so.
- Make sure that everything that you discuss with your employer is put in writing and that you have a copy of it. This should include every accommodation, every change, and everything else you and your employer agree upon.
Obtaining Professional Support
Recognize your rights.Once you disclose your mental illness at work, you obtain certain rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against at your workplace. However, keep in mind that you may not have the right to keep your diagnosis confidential because employers are not bound to the same rules as healthcare providers. If you do feel discriminated against at your workplace, you can file a discrimination complaint, but keep in mind that this is an expensive and often fruitless process.It is extremely difficult to prove discrimination after disclosing a mental illness.
- If you disclose your mental illness after an event (such as being fired or overlooked for a promotion), it’s less likely you’ll be protected, as this can be seen as a last ditch effort to keep your job.
Find social support.If you feel like you need support, reach out to family, friends, or a therapist. Social support can be extremely helpful when starting a new job and dealing with stress from work. You can also receive support from your employer. Ask your employer what support services they offer, as many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
- Some workplaces offer resources through employment services or human resources. If you're considering a new job, ask the employer what support services are available prior to employment.
Talk to a therapist.A therapist can be helpful in many ways when breaching mental health at your workplace. A therapist can help you cope with work-related stress and also help you negotiate any accommodations you ask for from your employer. You can ask your therapist what accommodations might be helpful at your workplace. You can discuss the pros and cons of disclosing with your therapist as well as practice disclosing with your therapist.
- Do some role play with your therapist to help you prepare for a conversation with your employer. Some questions you might want to answer with your therapist include: What will you say to your employer? If the conversation goes badly, how will you respond? How will you answer certain questions that your employer might ask? What questions is an employer allowed to ask to ask you during this conversation? How will you respond if your employer asks you an inappropriate or illegal question? If the disclosure goes well, then what of changes and responses should you be looking out for afterwards?
- A therapist can also help you manage your mental health diagnosis.
Seek legal help.If your workplace is dismissive or unwilling to make reasonable accommodations after you disclose, get some legal counsel. If you feel discriminated against or experience problems as a result of disclosing your mental illness, get some legal help. You should be protected under a disability act.
- You may even want to consult an attorney before having a conversation with your employer. This will help you to know what your rights are, what documentation you will be required to provide, and what you can legally ask for in terms of accommodations. Look into employment attorneys through your local legal aid office before you hire someone.
Video: Mental Illness Disclosure: Should You Tell Your Co-Workers?
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