Should You Hide Your Mental Illness at Work?

Posted on January 25th, 2015

Should You Hide Your Mental Illness at Work?If you have a mental illness, you’re far from alone. According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, 26.2 percent of American adults, or one in four, have a diagnosable mental health condition. This means you are just one among nearly 58 million Americans struggling with mental illness. Statistically, you likely work with people who also have a mental illness.

Whether you disclose your mental health issues at work is a decision that’s entirely personal. You’re under no obligation to tell your boss, human resources department or co-workers about your condition. There are understandable reasons you might want to keep it to yourself, but you should also consider the reasons to be open. 

Reasons to Hide Mental Illness

There are many good reasons not to talk about your mental illness at work. Depending on the culture in your workplace you may suffer for sharing. You could face discrimination in subtle ways or lose the confidence of your boss and co-workers. Although it is slowly shifting, the general attitude toward mental illness is one of stigma. While physical disabilities are accommodated and accepted, mental disabilities are not always.

If you have no need for special accommodations for your mental illness and you have symptoms under control with treatment, you really have no need to disclose your condition at work. Your health is your business and you have every right to decide not to share any details about it. 

Reasons to Be Open about Mental Illness

While there are valid reasons not to disclose your mental illness, there are also some good reasons to do it. If you need accommodations you may need to tell your boss or human resources department. You’re entitled to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. For instance, your condition may mean that you need occasional days off or that you sometimes need to leave work early. If your boss or co-workers don’t know why you do this, you could suffer consequences. If you disclose your condition, you’ll be protected and can’t be punished. It will also be kept in confidence if you don’t want your co-workers to know.

Another reason to consider disclosing your condition is the impact it could have on stigma and attitudes about mental illness. You have the opportunity to be a role model for others and to educate your co-workers and employers about mental illness. It may also benefit you if hiding your condition and any symptoms has been a stressful factor in your life. 

How to Disclose Mental Illness

If you do decide to tell your employer about your condition, be prepared. You need not present your entire medical record or even disclose a specific diagnosis, but it is important to discuss the ways in which your condition affects your ability to work.

Be ready to explain any accommodations that you need. Be specific and emphasize your abilities as well. You can even talk about how living with your condition has made you a better and stronger person. Turn what could be a negative conversation into one that’s positive. Also be sure to be clear about whether you want it to stay in confidence or if you plan to also disclose to your co-workers.

Opening up to other people, especially those at work, is an intimidating prospect. It can also be an empowering experience. Ultimately, the choice to disclose or conceal your mental health issues is personal. Carefully weigh the pros and cons before you make this important decision.

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

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