In the last issue, I discussed the rights and responsibilities of both you, as an employee, and your employer.
Now, besides deciding whether to talk to your employer, your colleagues need to be taken into consideration as well.
You have no obligation to disclose your illness to your co-workers. That said, some issues may arise. For example, if you take time off every week for appointments, or even a leave of absence, your work gets distributed and your co-workers will have to take on your share. They may wonder why you get ‘special treatment’ and may either be concerned for you, or resentful. People may get anxious and talk among themselves. They know that something is amiss.
To set the record straight, and to keep possible rumors from spreading, as well as to maintain collegial relationships, you might want to talk to them about what is happening with you.
This talk should take place behind closed doors. You do not have to tell them everything. You can just say that you have a medical problem that you need treatment for. If you feel comfortable with them, you may give them more specifics. If they know what is going on, they may be understanding and be part of your support group. Tell them how they can help you. Give them some information about your illness.
Keep in mind though, that some people still harbor stigma about people with mental illness, and those misconceptions and fears make their way into workplaces.
As an alternative to talking to your co-workers, you may ask your manager to talk to them on your behalf. Remember, the decision to inform your colleagues is yours. If you don’t want them to know, then don’t tell them, and tell your manager, if he or she knows, to keep everything confidential (which he or she should anyway).
In the next segment, I will discuss prevention and various proactive ways to handle mental illness in the workplace.