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Should You Keep Your Mental Illness a Secret at Work?

Should You Keep Your Mental Illness a Secret at Work?It’s bad enough that most health insurance companies will gladly discriminate against you for having a pre-existing mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

But what about other people, like your coworkers? Will they still treat you the same if they knew you had a mental illness?

Depending on where you worked, you might find the answer surprising, even in the year 2013.

For those of who’ve been working in mental health advocacy for years, it seems unimaginable that there are companies or workplaces where the sharing of your mental health concern would be detrimental. After all, coworkers share their physical ailments with one another all the time.

CJ Laymon, writing over at The Atlantic, tells the eye-opening reality. First, that insurance companies will still regularly to provide coverage to those with a mental illness, because it’s a “pre-existing” condition:

Last winter, I was declined by five health insurance companies. I am 26, do my preventative screenings like clockwork, and have no physical health problems. […]

Five applications and four declines later, I anxiously awaited my last and final letter. The verdict came: Declined. Reason: Bipolar II/ADHD.

How sad is it that despite the law of the land that you can’t discriminate against a person with a mental illness, insurance companies have still found a loophole to do so with their “pre-existing” condition clauses.

Thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against patients for their pre-existing conditions, starting in 2014.

This will, hopefully, solve this part of Laymon’s story. (Until, of course, insurance companies find yet another loophole or lobby for some sort of delay.)

But that’s okay. If it wasn’t bad enough that health insurance companies feel perfectly okay with discriminating against you for your mental illness, ordinary people will still pick up the slack:

I was able to keep working without letting anyone know I was sick. I was and continue to be just as reliable as the rest of the employees at my company. I work hard, constantly get stellar reviews, and hardly ever take a day off. I have always shown up earlier and left later than most, and am confident that despite the extra work it requires, I have never once let my mental health affect my job.

But I still feel like I can’t tell anyone. At my former company, everyone gossiped in mock horror about a manager who “had a mental breakdown” and went away for awhile, as though he had a contagious disease no one wanted to catch. And he was a manager. As a millennial in the early stages of my career, I can’t afford to be seen that way.

When one of our high-profile clients committed suicide last year, for days my co-workers said that they couldn’t understand why he would ever feel that way. He was so successful. I sat there mute, thinking about how many times I’ve been on the edge, and how many times I’d heard offhanded comments describing colleagues as “crazy,” “schizo,” and “bipolar.”

So sad… and so true. Too many still see mental illness as something that happens to other groups of people — not themselves. And certainly not anyone they know. So it’s still okay to joke about them…

Of course, the reality is far different. Virtually everybody’s life in the U.S. is touched by mental illness — whether their own, someone they know, or a family member. If people don’t understand that, they’re burying their head in the sand.

So should you keep your mental illness a secret at work?

If you do, you continue to spread the message that it’s not okay to talk about mental illness openly and without prejudice. But not all of us are in a position to be advocates in our lives or careers. In many cases, speaking up with honesty could actually jeopardize your career — and definitely impact your ability to be considered for promotion.

If you don’t keep it a secret, you help spread the message that it’s a-okay to talk about mental illness, just as we openly talk about our diabetes, the flu, and heck, even a cancer diagnosis nowadays. You help let others know it’s not okay to talk about people with mental health issues in shorthand vernacular that can be just offensive as the labels we’ve used for other discriminated groups in decades’ past.

There is no one right answer. It depends on your situation, your career, and your personal choices.

Keep it a secret if you need to, but consider that the risks of sharing it with your boss and coworkers might actually not be as bad you think. Because discrimination, stigma and prejudices don’t end magically — they end by ordinary people saying, “I’ve had enough hiding this in the dark and in shame.”


Read the full article: Why I Keep My Bipolar Disorder Secret at Work

Should You Keep Your Mental Illness a Secret at Work?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Should You Keep Your Mental Illness a Secret at Work?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Aug 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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