OCD — To Disclose or Not Disclose?
As many of you might already know, I’m an advocate for OCD awareness. I believe obsessive-compulsive disorder needs to be talked about, openly and honestly, so that we can foster better understanding and acceptance. Silence is not an option and only serves to perpetuate the ignorance and confusion that already surrounds this mental health disorder.
So when my son Dan (who has OCD) was filling out employment applications a few years ago and was asked to list all medical conditions, what do you think I advised him to do?
Lie, of course.
No question about it. I’m a hypocrite, and the first to admit it. But as I’ve said many times before, OCD is messy, and it’s often a lot easier to write about my thoughts and feelings than to actually carry out my own advice. I, like everyone else, am a work in progress.
The reason I gave Dan this advice (and I am not going to address the fact of whether he took it or not) is that I thought, rightly or not, that once the employer saw “OCD” on Dan’s application, he would not even be considered for the job. Who knows? That may or may not be true. Maybe the employer also has OCD and Dan reporting it would be a plus?! So I realize that while I have no problem talking about OCD and advocating for awareness when I know I’m dealing with people who are already accepting of the disorder (those who have it, those who care about someone with OCD, various health professionals), it is much more difficult, and scary, to be open and honest when you have no idea who you are dealing with or what their reaction will be.
Back to the application. I was surprised to even see this question as I believe, because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is illegal to ask about health conditions in a pre-employment application. However, I know this law is complicated, and I am far from an expert. In fact, I am just learning about how it affects those with obsessive-compulsive disorder in the workplace. Because my son had been in college for the past five years when he filed that application, my interest and knowledge of the ADA was always focused on disabilities within the higher education system. Now we were dealing with something new and different.
For me the bottom line is that the choice to speak out belongs to the person with OCD. Nobody should feel ashamed or that it must remain a secret, but people should not feel obligated to tell either. Each person and situation is unique and pros and cons should be weighed carefully. I have heard from people who have said sharing about their OCD in the workplace was the best decision they ever made, and I’ve heard just the opposite from others. Sigh. How much easier these decisions would be if we could predict people’s reactions and responses!
I’m wondering how others with OCD, or other brain disorders, deal with this issue in the workforce. Does your employer know you have OCD? Do you feel you have been treated fairly (or unfairly) because of your illness? Do you have any advice or insight for those with OCD who might be entering, or considering entering, the workforce? Insight from those who have “been there” can be invaluable as those with OCD navigate unfamiliar territories.