Should You Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Employer? | Guest Post by Adrian Johansen

Living with a mental illness is never easy. In addition to managing your condition, you are also faced with many difficult questions concerning when, and how, to disclose your diagnosis.

Unfortunately, far too many persons with mental illness continue to experience stigmatization in their communities and workplaces. Nevertheless, efforts to increase the public’s understanding of mental illness and, consequently, to destigmatize these challenges, continue apace. This is a particularly important mission when it comes to the cultivation of more inclusive, accommodating, and empathic work environments.

Despite the significant strides that have been made in the understanding and destigmatization of mental illness in the workplace, however, much work remains to be done. This can leave persons with a mental illness struggling with whether they should reveal their condition to their employer or colleagues.

No Obligation To Disclose

If you are questioning if you should share your mental health diagnosis with your employer, the first and perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you are under no obligation to do so. Moreover, federal legislation, including employment statutes codified by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), forbids employers from asking employees or applicants about their physical or mental health status.

Thus, if you prefer not to reveal your condition to your employer, you do not have to, and you can’t be terminated or demoted for not doing so.

Protections Following Disclosure

Though you are by no means morally or legally bound to disclose your diagnosis, if you feel that your condition may substantially affect your ability to perform your job, then it may be in your best interests to discuss your illness with them.

First, if you do decide to disclose your condition, your employer may recommend or require that you provide documentation that can protect your job if you experience a mental health crisis and/or need ADA-protected accommodations.

Likewise, if your employer refuses to provide the “reasonable accommodations” required by the ADA, or if you feel you have experienced discrimination based on your illness, then you will likely have more substantive grounds on which to file a disability discrimination complaint.

Revealing your diagnosis and ensuring that everything concerning your health needs is well-documented can not only help protect your access to resources and support but can also safeguard your rights in the workplace.

Understanding and Accommodating Your Needs

When you have a mental illness, there will almost certainly be working conditions and environments that are conducive to your mental health and others that are not. For example, research has shown that remote work environments can increase feelings of depression and anxiety, even for those who do not have a pre-existing mental health challenge.

If you share your status with your manager, you may be able to negotiate a strategy either to avoid or minimize remote work duties. If you must work remotely, you may be able to collaborate with your supervisor to craft a more flexible schedule that can help you maintain a healthy work/life balance when working from home.

Similarly, if your employer is aware of your diagnosis then they may be better prepared to help you to identify the sometimes-unexpected ways that your condition is impacting your work performance. For instance, if you have an anxiety disorder, then workplace stress may be amplifying your symptoms, causing you to feel excessively fatigued, unfocused, and unmotivated in the middle of the workday.

Once you and your employer can pinpoint areas where you may need a bit of additional support as you seek to manage your condition and your career, you will be more able to formulate effective support strategies. This might include, for example, extended break periods or the creation of designated spaces where you can go to decompress when the stressors of the workday become overwhelming.

Preventing the Rumor Mill

In addition to talking about your mental illness with your employer, you may also decide to share your condition with your colleagues. This can help to launch an important and necessary discussion about mental health in the workplace.

Similarly, disclosure may lead not only to better support for and understanding of your needs but also to the creation of a more empathic and inclusive environment for co-workers who may be experiencing the same challenges but who may not yet have felt comfortable enough to share their condition.

The Takeaway

Mental illness has for far too long been met with stigmatization and silencing. Today, however, the conversation surrounding mental health is increasing, as communities and workplaces become increasingly empathic for and inclusive of those with mental illness. However, the decision to disclose a mental health diagnosis to one’s employer is never an easy one. While you are under no obligation to share your condition with a current or prospective employer, there are legitimate reasons for choosing to disclose. The key is to know your rights and to choose the path that is right for you.