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Seeking Work with BPD: How Honest Should I Be?

March 19, 2013 Becky Oberg

Recently my benefits got cut and it's going to take at least another month to get it straightened out. To cope with the sudden reduction on the cash scene, I've been looking for a job with limited success. I've applied at two restaurants and been told to leave my name and number, which is the equivalent of the kiss of death. Fortunately, I have a lead on a job at an ice cream shop and it looks like I'll land the interview. Which leads me to one question--how open should I be about my borderline personality disorder diagnosis?

The case for staying silent

There's a lot of incentive to hope it doesn't come up. After all, I don't need accommodation to do my job. My medication won't cause me to fail a drug test. And I've been told I can pass as someone without a mental illness. So it may not even come up.

But what if it does? To tell the truth, I dread a question about my work history. I'm also scared that a former employer may reveal my BPD diagnosis since it cost me the job. So I need to be prepared. But what do I say? Do I lie? Or do I be honest? How honest should I be about my past?

There's a lot of stigma to mental illness, especially the ones I have (post-traumatic stress disorder, schizoaffective disorder, alcoholism and borderline personality disorder). I'm afraid that said stigma will cost me the job. This is not an unfounded fear; I once failed to get a job I was qualified for after the personality test revealed my illness. Another time my job coach called a potential employer, and he was so concerned that I might be violent he didn't hire me. Also, when my illness manifested during Army Basic, I was disqualified me from military service. Having a mental illness makes finding employment that much more difficult.

The case for being honest

My father is an agricultural engineer in charge of hiring people at the plant he works at. So I called him and asked for advice. Dad's advice was to be open and honest about my diagnosis. After all, it will probably come up at some point in time, and if I tell the truth I don't have to remember what I said.

Society is changing. There is more understanding of mental illness. And if I feel ashamed of my diagnosis or a need to keep it secret, how can I expect others to feel any differently? And if my symptoms put me in the hospital, how will I explain to my employer why I can't make it to work?

There is legislation to protect me: the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The ADA outlaws discrimination based on disability. So theoretically I should have nothing to lose by revealing the truth. It may even benefit me if my potential employer can qualify for a tax break.

My plan

So here's my plan: don't volunteer the information, but don't deny it. Hope the question of why there's a gap in my work history and why I'm not working now doesn't come up, but be willing to explain my diagnosis made things difficult for a while. Don't volunteer more information than is necessary to explain the answer.

I'll let you know how it works out for me. But ultimately you must decide the answer to the question of how honest you should be with current and potential employers about your diagnosis.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2013, March 19). Seeking Work with BPD: How Honest Should I Be?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/borderline/2013/03/how-honest-should-i-be-seeking-work-with-bpd



Author: Becky Oberg

Christina Robleto
March, 9 2019 at 2:10 pm

I am in a similar situation, having been diagnosed 5 years ago with BPD, I left my former state job unfavorably with staff for a promotion but I had a triggered event happen at the new job which caused me to lose that job, I have right of return to my former job but fortunately I don't have to go back to the same unit I left but I am concerned about how much I can disclose without having to lose my job? I don't want to be treated badly like I was before.

Julie Parias
March, 20 2013 at 1:39 pm

By law none of your past employers can share your medical information whn being called for a reference. That being said realize that being honest opens you up to the not so pretty back door handling of HR. From an employer's perspective you are a liability. I have BPD myself but I have also hired and fired before. Someone with any illness means the company may have to pay more in insurance premiums, it also brings about the question of missed time due doctors appointments. To top it all off we are speaking about BPD; an emotion based illness. If your medications will not raise any eye brows on a drug test and you and your therapist feel you are stable to do this then I would keep the BPD to yourself. With all the competition in the job market right now don't give a company a reason not to hire you.

Grace Peterson
March, 20 2013 at 8:44 am

I wouldn't disclose this information. I think it would be better to wait until you're hired and have proven yourself a worthy employee. Then, if a situation arises where you need to share your diagnosis, you'll receive a lot more understanding because your employer/employees will already know you and be confident in your ability to perform your job.
If a situation doesn't arise where you need to disclose this information, I'd just keep it to myself. Personal stuff is personal.

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