OVERCOMING OBSTACLES: Your Turn – “Have You Ever Disclosed Your Mental Illness to an Employer?”

Whether or not to disclose a mental illness to a current or prospective employer is a controversial topic. Career Corner asked mental health consumers in our community this following question:

“Have you ever disclosed your mental illness to an employer? If so, what was the result? If not, why did you choose not to?”

“I have disclosed at every job that I have had in mental or behavioral health since 1990. I originally disclosed when I first worked in mental health at a state hospital. I did it because I wanted to use my experiences and successes to help others with lived experience. This helped me as well because I didn’t feel like I was hiding something. Over the years I have faced much more discrimination at jobs because of my mental illness when they were not in the mental health system. In the mental health field, when people find out I am a peer provider, they often just say ‘Well, you are different or you aren’t really a consumer.’”

“I think that disclosure can be a tricky situation: in my personal experience, at a job prior to the one that I have now, I chose not to disclose for fear of stigma and judgement. However, now that I work in the mental health field, I felt comfortable disclosing my illness because I felt that the environment was more accepting. I also was in a circumstance where I needed to disclose because it was affecting my job performance. In the long run it has helped me become a better employee.”

“I haven’t been in the position of making that choice yet. I would choose not to disclose my mental illness to my future employer. There is too much stigma associated with mental illness and I feel it would negatively affect my chances of getting the job. [But] only you know that answer.”

“In the past I never told an employer that I have depression (dysthymia) as it has not interfered with my work and seemed irrelevant. I used to mention other issues/experiences from my past to co-workers, but I don’t anymore because they would discount my thoughts and opinions, citing my “damaging” past. Now that I work in the mental health field, my employer knows of my dysthymia because it was helpful to our relationship. They didn’t know, however, until after I had been working for some time.”

“I have told coworkers and employers in the past of my mental health diagnosis. I felt like I was judged. My coworkers seemed to be less social with me. My boss managed me more closely. If things became stressful for me, people would wonder if I was going to have a breakdown. I heard comments around me about the mentally ill. I felt like I needed to prove that I could do my job.”

“I have never disclosed my mental illness to an employer. I choose not to because I would only disclose an illness if it severely affected my ability to do my job or I needed to take extensive time off to deal with it. My medication keeps me stable keeps my illness in check and I take it regularly. Also, I don’t want to worry about the stigma of having a mental illness. Word gets around very quickly in my office and I don’t want to be treated differently for it.”

“The only time I’ve ever told an employer about my mental illness, she pushed me to get treatment for it. Unfortunately, it started to become an excuse for her to use for me if I ever messed up. Soon she was asking daily if I was taking my medications, if I needed a break for no reason and just using it as a handicap on my daily abilities. There’s a fear in telling people about your disabilities, especially employers. You never know how they’re going to take it or if they’re going to understand.”