Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Life at Work: Should You Tell Your Boss About a Mental Illness?

unhappywomanwork.jpgMany people struggle with the question of whether or not to tell their bosses about their mood disorders at work. Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce wrote an excellent article on this a few years ago that you can access here. I have included the first few paragraphs below, but urge you to read the rest of her article, as it gives no straight answers but explores that terrain with great depth.


If you have depression or some other mental illness, what do you do about work? Hope no one notices? Disclose your illness early on and trust that your boss will understand?
Should You Tell is a complicated question.
There is no right answer, and there are some risks to consider.
I discovered this years ago after watching a movie at home with two friends. One of them looked up, scared. She hesitated. And then she let it out: “Do you hear them? The helicopters. They’re coming for me, guys.”
This sweet, gentle friend was scrunched up in the corner of the couch, shaking. Her Ivy League graduate degree and over-the-top intelligence couldn’t get her out of this situation. We had to get her to the hospital.
The next day, after she’d spent a night in the emergency room, I called her boss to say she had the flu. Another friend and I took turns calling in the flu excuse while she huddled in her room. It wasn’t convincing.


Click here to continue reading the article.

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  • Mimi

    I’d been teaching at a wonderful private school for almost 10 years. During that time I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. When I shared this with the Headmaster, he nodded wisely and said “that explains why you miss so much school. We will support you in any way we can.” He resigned at the end of the school year.
    The next Headmaster came from our ranks and was quick to tell me that he didn’t believe in such nonsense. Unfortunately it was a bad year for me during which I had my last and almost successful suicide attempt. My doctor wanted me on leave-of-absence, my headmaster wanted me back at work on Monday. I went back, my performance was pitiful, and I almost lost my job. Thank goodness for the Americans With Disabilities Act and the free legal help I got. They were able to stop his harassment and help me keep my job.
    It’s tough out there. While I know that the only way to fight the stigma is to get the news out there, even the professionals who are there to help us undermine us by calling it “Behavioral Health” as if we have a choice.

  • Derek C. Nordbye

    I can’t agree more with Sister Mimi’s post. We DON’T have a choice in the matter, concerning our mental health. For me, I didn’t get diagnosed until 2002! This is after spending many years self-medicating, through alcohol and drugs, and trying to ignore the problem, as well. As one can see, neither “solution” worked. I have, since, found the right combination of medications AND cognitive therapy that works for me. I pray that ALL who read our posts will NOT be scared and get help either, for themselves, or for someone close to them.

  • Mechele

    I identify with Mimi very much. I strugle in keeping a job, I have a college degree, type A personality, very bright and ambitious. Unfortunately, my anxiety problem gets in the way all the time, I get overwhelmed easily and I happen to end up supervising people in every job I get. I don’t feel I can supervise anyone since I have so much trouble disciplining myself and my two sons. I am very indecisive which causes chaos with my boss, poor thing, I drive her crazy, she keeps me because I am a great asset to the company. Yesterday I commented her that I watched Oprah and most of the time it’s about child sexual abuse, I told her that I had to change channels because it was too much for me. My boss is a social worker but I dont want to cross the boundaries, sometimes I feel like telling her that I am an incest survivor and take medications for my depression, probably she suspects that. It is so tru that when yu have a mental illness, I constantly am watching what i Say or how I behave so people can’t see that “I am not Normal” when in fact people see it anyway. Most of my coworkers are social workers and lokk at me in a different way. I am in therapy now but my therapist is not versed in dialectical cognitive therapy, I’ve heard that it helps with my situation, Thanks

  • MomOfThree

    It really all depends. If the mental health condition has a negative impact on your job, then disclosure is necessary and not after you are facing disciplinary actions. ADA and ADA-A are there to ensure the rights of qualified individuals with disability to employment and retention. Once disclosure is made, if a reasonable accommodation is needed medical documentation must be provided (no verbal “this is what my condition is”), get the approval in writing detailing what the accommodation is, this way even if a new manager comes along, s/he will be aware of what the accommodation is.
    The law is not for people to make excuses nor to feel they have a right to violate existing workplace laws, rules and regulations nor is it an entitlement program that will afford benefits not given to non-disabled employees. This is the frustration I face daily at work; people want to use their disabilities as a way to get away with doing nothing at work all day; some get to the point where they have disqualified themselves for their jobs because they insist they can no longer perform the duties of the job but want to keep their jobs or get promoted to a position with even more duties.
    If it isn’t impacting your ability to do your job, then there’s no need to say anything.

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