Q: Is it important to inform my managers about mental health issues that might affect my work, or should I keep it to myself? I was only recently diagnosed and I’m trying to set myself up for success, but I can’t tell if that includes filling in leadership. If I do tell them, how much do they need to know? Should I go straight to HR with something like this, or can it be handled privately by a supervisor?
A: In the work environment, more and more organizations are trying to eliminate any stigma associated with mental illness. There are places where you will find support and places where you won’t. Some resources you can turn to for help when considering what to address or what to keep private include your Employee Assistance Program, physician, or therapist. They may offer insight that helps you decide how much to disclose. The range of mental health issues is significant, and knowing how your diagnosis impacts you personally will help you determine what you reveal. According to Kathleen Greer, Chairman and Founder of KGA, an Employee Assistance Program firm, “Employees are more likely to reveal that they are having issues with emotional well-being if the work environment is free of stigma. That said, an employee has no obligation to reveal a mental condition unless he or she needs a workplace accommodation.”
If your mental illness does not impact you on the job, then there’s no need to disclose. If you’re worried that it might, or you need time off or any other considerations, you can talk to your supervisor directly if you believe they are capable of confidentiality and have the authority to make decisions that will positively impact your work situation. If not, Human Resources might be more supportive, but you need to be clear on what it is you’re looking for – what kind of support, time off, or other accommodations you may anticipate. Part of what happens when you disclose any kind of illness to Human Resources is you enter a protected class. There are some things that the company can or can’t do based on that, which may work to your advantage, or may it not.
Continue to position yourself for success in any positive ways you can. Understand that your illness may impact not only work responsibilities, but your social life at work as well. As you look for support, expand your search to include both of these areas. Work time includes a great deal of interpersonal and social interaction, and you want to be prepared for both with accommodations as needed. Stay tuned into your well-being and make decisions that support your mental health.