The Psych Central Report

Mental Illness in the Workplace:
Part 2: Talking to Your Employer

By SS8282
March 2006

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In the last issue, I briefly mentioned the cost of mental illness in the workplace.  This section discusses the issues of talking to your employer - do you have to tell them? How do you tell them?

Before telling anyone, especially your employer, about your illness, first see a physician for a diagnosis. Self-diagnoses generally are inaccurate.

To Tell or Not To Tell

Consider  how mental illness affects your life at work.  Are you able to perform as well as before getting sick?  Are you consistently late for work?  Does your company offer flex time so that you can work your schedule around your needs? Will you be absent more than usual, such as for rest and treatments?

If you are able to work as usual, or at least able to give the perception that everything is normal and you require no accommodations, then you can keep your illness to yourself.  You do not have to disclose it to anyone in your workplace.

In the event that you do decide to tell your employer (usually your direct supervisor), there are a few things to consider.

  • Decide how you will describe your illness. Although there is confidentiality involved when it comes to illnesses, not everyone maintains that privacy. It depends on the person.
  • Has a co-worker been treated for mental illness previously? Perhaps you can talk to him or her about how the situation was handled and how he or she was treated.
  • Choose an appropriate time for disclosure. Telling your supervisor when he or she is dealing with a crisis may not produce a positive reaction.
  • Provide your supervisor with brochures or other basic information about mental illness.  Web sites, including Psych Central, are good sources of information.
  • Explain how the illness affects your ability to do your job.  You have a responsibility to be productive, but you also have a right to accommodations if you are ill.
  • Let your supervisor know the best way to approach you with concerns, especially with criticisms or performance management directives, and how to help you be more effective.
  • Remind your supervisor of your skills and strengths.

Disclosing your illness, especially to an employer, is never easy. It is normal to worry somewhat about the reaction to your news, but nothing is more important than your health. Keep in mind what you need to do to get well, and do it. 

In the next issue, I will discuss your and your employer’s rights and obligations.

Last updated: 2 Mar 2006
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Mar 2006
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