Depression Disclosure at Work
Last night, on the Mental Health and Social Media Chat (#mhsm) on Twitter, the topic was job searching and workplace disclosure for those with a mental health condition. While Isabella Mori moderated the chat and came up with all of the discussion questions, it was actually a topic that I had chosen. Depression disclosure at work is particularly relevant to me right now and it is at the forefront of my mind.
I am currently on a job search and the issue of depression disclosure keeps cropping up. Much of my work experience and volunteer efforts are tied to mental health and the disclosure of my own challenges with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. My recent work as a Community Leader with WEGO Health involved a lot of self-disclosure, and I'm proud of the work I've done there. But can't help but wonder how employers will feel when they investigate my history. Especially how they will feel when uncovering the fact that I live with depression, anxiety and the rest.
I have always said that if an employer finds my health activist efforts and previous health issues a risk, then it is most likely a workplace environment I do not want to work in. But disclosure of mental illness feels a bit different when you are in the thick of a job hunt.
Depression Disclosure at Work Could Be Seen As an Act of Courage
But Will It Be?
My other blogging efforts, activity in social media and even fundraising efforts have almost all focused on mental health issues. I expose regularly and quite clearly how I have been personally affected specifically by depression. I am not embarrassed but I am sometimes afraid it will limit me and the opportunities I am given.
Perhaps instead, someone will see my resiliency and determination to beat the odds and the illness to get a clear picture of the kind of passion and energy I can put into practice. Would it be too much to hope that an employer might find my battle with depression impressive or somehow inspiring? Maybe they will see my fight with depression as an act of courage and my efforts to raise awareness, break stigma and create positive change as honorable.
There are so many variables that are unknown, but one thing is certain. If I want to continue my efforts to break down the barriers of mental health stigma, then sharing my experience (professional, personal and volunteer) is integral to my efforts. I will continue and persevere. My struggles with depression are mine but they are not all that I am. My experiences are valuable both on a personal level and in a professional capacity.
Public Depression Disclosure: Where Do You Stand?
While many taking part in the #mhsm chat last night shared that they do not feel it is necessary or even desirable to disclose their mental health issues, I will not hide mine. I certainly don't need to greet my prospective employers with this information, "Hi my name is Amy and I have major depressive disorder." But, I do choose to utilize the progress and work I have done in the mental health community to demonstrate the proficiency and skills I have developed.
How do you feel? Are your personal and volunteer efforts something that you disclose? Do you keep your struggles with depression a dark secret? Do you believe one should keep it hidden, especially in the workplace? With an online presence that is obviously tied to my experience with health issues including mental health challenges like major depressive disorder, it would be impossible to hide. I will embrace it and be proud of what I have accomplished so far. I know this may not be for everyone, so what would you do?
Kiel, A. (2011, July 6). Depression Disclosure at Work, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/depressiondiaries/2011/07/depression-disclosure
Author: Amy Kiel
I would never disclose my mental illness to anyone, specifically my employer. Whether you believe you have a good employer or not and while it's illegal, there are always ways around the law (That's what HR is for - to protect the company). A mental illness to many is a sign of incompetency and weakness . Funny 30 years ago, cancer was handled the same way.
I have struggled with depression for over 20 years and currently work in the family business which I have done since coming out of college. If and when we shut our doors I will be out of work and searching for a job. Disclosing that I suffer from depression to a potential boss would not be something I would feel comfortable doing, I rarely tell my family what is going on. Being in the design field would be hard enough finding a job let alone start behind the eight ball by saying I suffer from depression.
I have been suicidally depressed since I was a teenager. I managed to hide it from everyone through high school and college (although in college I almost jumped out a dorm window). Left untreated, I did attempt suicide 8 years after graduation. The hospital forced me to tell my immediate family, which I did and do not regret. After the suicide attempt, I could not work so I told my boss and gave 2 weeks' notice. Then I was unemployed for 14 months. I had to take a huge cut in pay (not that I made that much anyway). Once I got that job I stopped getting free treatment at a city mental health center. So I had no therapy and no meds for 8 years. Then I hit what I call my "current" depression. I was able to work and qualified for short-term disabilty (3 times in 2 years). At this point I told my cousins and aunt and uncles that I have schizoaffective disorder. I tried to explain it but know most of them have no idea what I have been through. At work I would be open about having a disability but I told NO ONE at work that I am mentally ill. The stigma is still real although I want to speak out to break it. Back to the job, the very day I returned from the third short-term disability leave, they FIRED me. For 17 years now I have been on Social Security Disability. I have been hospitalized about 14 times. I have had ECT about 20 times. I have been on about 20 different meds; one med, Stelazine, left me with tremors in my left hand. I apply for 2-3 jobs usually each week. NO ONE has hired me in 14 years. When I apply for part-time jobs, in my cover letter I often mention that I am on disability and that is why I can work only a few hours a week. Again I do not say I have a mental illness. I have changed my mind. I am no longer going to disclose that I have a disability in my cover letter or application. I believe such disclosure has hurt me.
If you are unemployed for a long period, Mass. Rehab. Commission told me to take all the dates out of my resume so they will not know how long I have been out of work. I just say "5 years at Wal-Mart" instead of "2005-2010 Wal-Mart". My advice is do not tell anyone at work you have a mental illness.
Catherine, agreed not telling at your co-workers and employers. I made that horrible mistake. My supervisor frequently is harassing me. He tells me, “one day you are going to lose it, I am watching you for that moment” I always stay quiet and pretend I ignore him, but inside me, I want to disappear from the earth. My family is more important and I am the bread winner. I wish, I am healed but the sadness is unbearable.
When I had my "current" depression (aka nervous breakdown) 17 years ago, I was working full time. I had to be hospitalized several times. For this reason I was granted 3 short-term disability leaves. In 2 years, when I returned from the third short-term disability, literally the day I returned, I was fired. I am so glad I did not disclose to anyone at work that I had a mental illness.
I have been hospitalized 14 times, had about 20 ECTs, and have been on about 22 meds. Stelazine left me with tremors in my left hand.
Because the stigma against mental ilnee is very real, I want to disclose to people I have it so they can see I am OK (basically). After I attempted suicide, I was "forced" by the hospital to tell my immediate family. That was a good decision. After they died, I decided to tell my cousins, my aunts and uncles, and a few, CLOSE friends that I have schizoaffective disorder. I tried to explain it to them but they really do not understand what I go through. But I do not regret that.
I have been unemployed since 1996. When I apply for part-time jobs recently, sometimes I tell them I have a disability in my cover letter or an interview, but do not say I have a mental illness. I have now decided to stop disclosing I have a disability in my cover letter or application. I think it has hurt me.
If you are unemployed for a long time, Mass. Rehab. Commission told me to take all the dates out of my resume including when I graduated. For example I write in my resume "5 years at Wal-Mart" instead of "2002-2007 at Wal-Mart." I hope some of this helps.
My depression diagnosis is on my blog and everyone at work knows about my blog. I've told some co-workers about my depression, but not my boss. If she finds out on my blog (and she's got the address), I'll deal with it then. I totally agree with you Amy: my commitment to breaking down the barriers around mental illness keeps me very out in the open about my history. Thank you for writing this. It makes me feel better when most people think mental illness should be kept a secret at all costs.
Your story sounds just like mine! You could be me. We even have almost the same NAME. I've also been on disability for years after being fired (my performance reviews went from stellar to awful, even though the quality of my work did not change, when I was forced to disclose because I needed accommodations for time off during the workday for therapy). I am thinking that I want to return to the workforce sometime (I'm not ready yet) but.... just how DO you explain that? It's scary. We could be twins.
I am a psychotherapist and I have lived with depression for many years. I have now also been diagnosed with PTSD. I work for a large organisation and felt I had no choice but to disclose the depression when I started work. That was 8 years ago. In the last year I have really struggled again, but the atmosphere at work is now one where I would never trust my boss to not hold info like that against me.
Once before, years ago, they tried to get rid of me and got all sorts of reports on me from outside specialists as they were trying to say I was not fit to do my job. All the reports disagreed so they had to let me stay.
So even in my profession you just never know who you can trust. It is a sad, sad state of affairs as I have helped hundreds of people over the years.
Unfortunately I had so many hospitalizations that my employer eventually found out I had a mental disorder. I had so many, in fact, that I eventually applied for and was granted disability. Now that I have been on disability for so long I'm sure that I will probably never be able to get a job. How can you explain that you have been on disability for being "crazy" for years? I currently feel like my working life is done.
I work at an investment management firm and ever since I chose to discuss my mental health issues, the microscope was suddenly magnified. 2010 first quarter reviews were glowing and they suddenly crashed after disclosure. I was out on 5 weeks for short term disability this year and have now decided to see a psychotherapist. After notifying my employer of the dates I would be out (an hour once every two weeks) I'm now on my final written notice. Of course it's for other things, but the timing can't help make me wonder. Learned my lesson and will never do it again.
It sure is rough timing for you. I am sorry, I know that must be very discouraging. I am lucky that so far I have not had bad experiences, but I have been in circumstances where I was told not to tell "higher ups" about the health issues I had. It is unfortunate that the business world is often not more open to bringing real life into the scope of work life, because dealing with a diagnosable mental health issue is a real life issue for 1 in 4 Americans.
I would not tell anyone. And when I was working I didn't tell anyone until I got sick and had to go into the hospital. I then told my boss who I believe told no one, at least that's what she told me and I believe here. If she did, it doesn't really matter, I never went back anyway. But I think everyone has to decide that for themselves. How they feel and how much they want to disclose.
I agree it is a very personal decision. Thank you for sharing!