FAQ: Disclosing Your Mental Illness at Work
Work is good for us. There is evidence that it makes us happier, and while mental illness can hamper your ability to work, you really should if you can. Disclosing your mental illness might feel like a lose-lose situation: you must reveal sensitive information about yourself, and your boss must figure out how to deal with it. The stigma surrounding mental illness doesn’t help, either. Despite numerous campaigns, articles, and attempts to educate the public, myths and misconceptions are difficult to dispel. There’s certainly a possibility of negative consequences, so it can be a frightening prospect.
“If it’s so risky, why should I tell?”
Perhaps the most pressing reason is that if your mental illness interferes with your work, you are obligated to disclose it. This is actually meant to help you; telling management that you face performance issues and require accommodations will make your job easier. You have a responsibility to let your boss know so they can support you.
Another compelling reason is that, by disclosing, you have an opportunity to educate others. Your productivity can prove to your superiors that mental health issues are not an insurmountable obstacle. You can lead by example, and reduce stigma at the same time.
“What should I say?”
There are several approaches you can take. It all depends on the nature of your illness and how comfortable you are with exposing personal information. If you struggle with the idea of being vulnerable, you can use general terms. You don’t need to be too specific. You only have to talk about what is relevant to your work situation. You are not even required to name your illness, if you don’t want to.
Talk about your strengths. While you do need to discuss the ways in which your illness will affect your performance, you should also point out the ways in which it won’t interfere. Make sure your manager is aware that you are still an asset, not a liability.
Stress that your illness is not a symptom of a bad attitude. Help them understand that at least some of your issues are beyond your control and that, while you’ll try to give it your best, there will be times when you struggle. Make sure you explain how this can be dealt with.
“How can I help my boss understand me?”
The first step is to tell them about your specific needs and preferences. Be honest and forthright about the accommodations that will help you do your best work. Chances are, they won’t know much about the topic, and they definitely can’t know what you’ll require unless you tell them. Don’t make them guess.
It’s a good idea to present them with brochures and other educational materials. Different sources of information are helpful, especially if you find it difficult to share that information yourself. This may also help them get past any deeply-ingrained beliefs about mental illness, which may be out of date or simply wrong.
“I’m still not sure about this…”
Disclosing mental illness will never be easy, but trust us when we say that failing to do so is the bigger risk by far. It causes intense anxiety in most cases, but once it’s over, there is an excellent chance you won’t regret it. It may result in a more supportive environment, and once the required accommodations are in place, you’ll be a happier, more productive employee. We know it’s hard, but be brave and take the leap. You’ll be glad you did.