NOTE: This was originally published on my other blog on 21-05-15. I am transferring everything I can, with intent to shut down my other blog.
Today I want to talk about whether you should disclose your mental health at an interview for a job. Or at all.
There’s basically two camps to this, and they’re very polarized. Some people believe that you should absolutely disclose for very strong (read, directly benefits the employer) reasons, and some people believe that you should absolutely not disclose, for your own self preservation.
I now to fall in the “not disclose” camp, but I want to look at the reasoning on both sides:
Reasons to Disclose:
1. So your company can “meet your needs”
2. So you can get your rights if you have any in your country and so you can become a statistic for other people to fight for you to get some rights if you don’t have any in your country.
3. So people who don’t understand mental health can “keep an eye on you” and make sure you aren’t allowed to do jobs where you might fail to land the plane safely. See also: Stigmatize. People who don’t understand mental health would have us inform everyone in a mile of our home that we have mental health problems, as if we were some kind of criminal who harmed children.
4. So you’re being “honest.”
5. So they can give you “ability appropriate” work based on their interpretation of your state not your own.
6. They can’t “fire you for having a mental illness” (actually they can, if they decide you’re “not able to perform the tasks required of the job” but they’ll find something else if they really want you gone).
Reasons not to Disclose:
1. People don’t understand mental health and some of us don’t have it in us to challenge that because we’re a bit preoccupied with trying to make it through the day.
2. People don’t understand mental health and gossip about yours behind your back.
3. People don’t understand mental health and will give the better stuff to people who “can handle it.”
4. People don’t understand mental health and will use the absence management policy to force you out whether you disclose or not, but if you disclose, you may be told by an unemployment office that you have to take it to tribunal before they’ll pay you an unemployment cheque if your group is “protected.”
5. People don’t understand mental health and will ensure you are given extra obligations such as extra “risk assessment” or “occupational health” paperwork as well as being made to take time out of your workday or break to “touch base” with your manager or occupational health in a meaningless box ticking way where they expect you to be magically transformed into a 100% attendance employee if they give you a special backrest.
As you can see, I’m firmly in the camp for not disclosing, I used to be on the fence about this, even when I got bullied out of my job at a pharmacy, last year, due to my anxiety problem, but I changed to being anti-disclosure when my last employer, an agency, told a load of other employees about my anxiety when I emailed to tell her why I couldn’t go in any more, and she gave them my phone number so I have had a load of people to block because they got half the story and sent me shitty messages to “pull myself together” “get over it” “stop taking everything so personally” (that was from someone who had never met me or worked with me) “I let them down” “everyone gets stressed, deal with it” “I was weak and couldn’t handle my job” and “people like me shouldn’t be allowed to work with children.” Who does this to people? People who don’t understand mental health. And there’s a lot of them around.
To any employers reading, the above behaviour doesn’t actually help with recovery and just means I will never work for you again. I was just glad I didn’t get diagnosed with bipolar/psychosis until after I’d left because I may have disclosed that and it would have been so much worse.
Disclosing your mental health status is up to you, but the vast majority of literature says you should disclose anxiety depression and stress at work, that most employers are supportive of this, but conversely, that if you have had “more serious” (read: less common, as anxiety and depression can clearly be VERY serious) mental illnesses such as bipolar, borderline personality or schizophrenia, that you shouldn’t discuss it at all, and I wish I’d listened to that advice, not the “you should disclose because everyone’s got anxiety” advice before I told my last employer about my anxiety. It takes a lot of mental energy to keep fighting this once you’ve been stigmatized, and if I had that energy, I wouldn’t need reasonable adjustments in the first place.
Here’s some sites which discussed this same topic:
http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar/2009/12/bipolar-on-the-job-part-ii-to-tell-or-not-to-tell/ This one weighs up the pros and cons.
http://www.mentalhealthforum.net/forum/thread59174.html This is about the crap they put you through once they find out you have mental health problems, and the fact that all the organizations who are supposed to be able to help you have no idea what they are doing. The outcome for this nurse was good, after much stress and time lost, but she never posted about the final outcome of the investigation.