Telling your employer you have a mental illness...
If you have a mental illness one of the biggest decisions you have to face is whether to tell people or not. Should you tell your employer? Or is it best to keep it secret?
Most people with mental health issues will have different answers depending on their own experiences. When I was applying for jobs a few years ago I asked people in a bipolar support group I am part of and most people said that it was best not to say, and a lot of people had their own stories of where they'd told employers and it hadn't gone well. Although it is against the law to discriminate for a disability it doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Unfortunately stigma surrounding mental illness is still a huge problem, and due to ignorance- and people just not understanding or educating themselves on what it is people don't always get treated fairly.
Today I have two stories for you from my own personal experience of telling employers about having bipolar disorder and anxiety. One didn't go well, but one is positive.
The first time I told an employer I had a mental illness was when I worked at Asda. I wasn't going to mention the company but I've decided fuck it, I want to name and shame. I went through a particularly bad depressive episode and was as yet undiagnosed but began the process. Because the depression got so bad I had to take sick leave. My employer required me to go in for regular meetings to keep them updated. They constantly just wanted me to commit to a date in which I would return to work despite me telling them my health was no different and I was in the process of a diagnosis. The meetings were hugely stressful and would involve two managers sat opposite me. They acted as if I was making the whole thing up and they were impatient with it. The final straw was when I started receiving messages from work colleagues asking me what bipolar was and that they heard I'd got it. At that point I was only starting the diagnosis process and stressed to management I wanted this kept private as I didn't want anyone to know. This hadn't happened. When I replied to the messages asking who told them the response was some guy I barely spoke to. The thought of everyone gossiping about me and my mental health was enough for me to take the redundancy that the management were desperate for me to agree to.
I walked away from that experience feeling disheartened and adamant I wouldn't tell any future employer.
Fast forward a number of years. I was fully diagnosed and on medication. I began working at a company I currently work for. Last year around October my health took a dip and I experienced another depressive episode. I had to take a month of leave where I adjusted to a medication change. After a lot of anxiety I decided to tell my manager the reason.
And this is where this post gets positive. My manager listened and was very understanding. It turns out he has a friend who is going through a diagnosis for bipolar and knew what the illness was. He was hugely supportive in my return to work and I feel I can talk openly about it if I need to. My colleagues have also been supportive too! This experience has given me the confidence boost to not have to hide my illness anymore, I'm not ashamed and I am happy to talk about it. I wish it was like this for everyone but if you experience something like my first story I'd recommend finding another job. Living with mental illness is hard enough without having to deal with stigma from your place of work. It should be somewhere where you feel comfortable and supported.
So should you tell people you have a mental illness? Well that's up to you but since I've told my employer I feel like a weight has lifted and I don't have to hide who I am anymore.