Talking about Mental Illness in the Workplace

To disclose or not to disclose? ELIZABETH KEMPERS, who accesses RichmondPRA’s Taree service, describes her own experiences in disclosing a mental illness in the workplace.

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Whether you disclose a mental illness to anyone at work or not is a personal choice, and not one to take lightly. It can make or break your career, so careful thought is required.

My own logic is that if the world knows about my mental illness, I don’t run the risk of someone I don’t trust finding out and being in a position to use this information against me. If the world knows, I feel I have nothing to fear.

I feel that if I disclose, I am more likely to find a workplace that is supportive. It may mean that not all the jobs I have held have been positive experiences for me, but I am okay with that, as I feel I don’t want to spend my life in a place where I am not welcome if I show any vulnerabilities.

This decision has had both positive and negative effects for me.
When I first re-entered the workforce, after my first Episode, my immediate supervisor and I had different views of my capabilities. She did not understand why I worked so slowly and how I needed to have plenty of breaks in order to function. This was even though she knew that I’d had a break down. I think that disclosing to this individual counted against me, as she had little desire to show compassion, at least in a form that I recognised as such.

At the same time, due to my openness, I was able to make connections within the workplace. My other colleagues rallied around me and gave me the support I so desperately needed. I had lunch every day with one beautiful lady and became close friends with her – something that would not have happened had I decided to not talk about my experience.

The other part of this is that, because of my openness, my immediate supervisor’s Manager, was of huge importance in my recovery. When he realised my predicament, he moved me into his office and gave me work to do under the supervision of his Personal Assistant. She was a very loving and comforting force in my life at this time and I owe much of my success to this lovely and caring team.

When disclosing there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Firstly, work out who you want to tell, and whether it is okay for them to talk about your mental illness to others.

Be clear as to what you expect from this person / these people.

Secondly, work out what kind of language you wish to use and whether you want to be vague with how much detail you give, or whether you want to disclose the actual diagnosis. Also, think about whether it is actually necessary or advantageous to let your workplace or any individual in your workplace know.

Remember, this is not an easy decision. If in doubt, there are plenty of resources online if you wish to look into this further. It may also help to discuss your decision to close family and friends or to any of your treating doctors.

 
RichmondPRA
Taree
Unit 4, 80 Wynter Street TAREE NSW 2430
1300 779 270

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