Should you tell your employer you have a mental illness?

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What are the risks involved in telling your employer about your mental illness? Many mental health sufferers are torn between hiding their condition and facing possible stigmatisation. Here are some factors to consider before making this important decision.


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The average South African faces soaring costs of living and enormous work and social pressures. These challenges are compounded for individuals who suffer from a mental illness. Not only is everything much harder but deciding whether or not to tell your employer about your mental illness is a difficult decision to make.
It is advisable to look at the practical implications of revealing the truth about your mental health.
Disclosing your condition may put you at risk of foregoing a job opportunity as employers may view your condition as a liability to the business.
On the other hand if you do get the job, you face possible stigmatisation which will be counter-productive to your career.
For example if you are simply having a bad day, (which is completely normal) your behaviour may be attributed to your mental illness. Your employer may associate absenteeism with your mental illness even if it is genuinely due to the occasional flue or stomach bug.

In addition you may have to work harder than other employees to prove yourself and gain the same level of respect.
If you are being treated for your mental illness with either medication, psychotherapy and or a combination of both, and your mental illness is under control, it may not be necessary to divulge it to your employer.
However, 'keeping the secret' and 'hiding' your mental illness from those around you can create additional stress, which is especially dangerous for mental illness sufferers. It is therefore advisable to be transparent and open about your mental health.
This does not mean divulging your condition to the entire office; you could simply disclose your mental illness to your manager in a confidential setting.

Assure your manager or boss that you are aware of your responsibility toward your mental health and discuss the steps you are taking to manage your disorder.
Your decision to divulge your condition depends heavily upon your industry. Some industries and jobs which require high levels of creativity and 'out of the box' thinking may be more accepting of mental disorders.

Your position in the company is another factor to consider. For example if you have years of industry experience and are seen as an asset to the company your employer is more likely to accept your condition and offer assistance.

The type of mental illness is also an extremely crucial element in the decision making process.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) categorizes the various types of mental disorders into five different axes. Axis 1 describes symptoms such as depression where Axis 11 highlights personality disorders.
Having a mental illness is not shameful. The prevalence of mental illnesses is increasing and corporations are becoming more open to acknowledging and dealing with mental illnesses within the workplace.
Whether or not you decide to disclose your mental illness, it is important to ensure that you treat and manage your mental health.
By Lauren Gerber - Skills Portal
What do you think?
Are businesses more accepting of mental illness sufferers?
If you have any questions about this article please email [email protected]

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