A friend who lives overseas and has had mental health (MH) issues, is applying for a job. She’s filled in most of the application, but there’s one box still to complete:
‘Do you have, or have you had any MH conditions?’
She writes about her concerns: “I wonder, where does this leave me? Potentially not telling the full truth and being seen as dishonest if I’m ever found out, or telling the truth and never being considered ever, owing to prejudice?”
In the UK, if you have a MH problem that has a significant impact on your day-to-day life (for 12 months or more), it may be considered a disability, (see here for more). But under the 2010 Equality Act, employers are banned from asking about health and disability unless, and until an offer of a job has been made. So, is it worth telling your employer, even if you don’t have to?
- Often with MH issues, it’s hard to have a true view of yourself. Trying to articulate this in your own head, let alone at an interview, is very difficult. It’s easy to veer between overconfidence, (‘I’m absolutely fine, no vulnerabilities’) and under confidence, (‘I’m rubbish, I don’t know why I’m even bothering’).
- It’s easy to make assumptions about certain MH labels, that may not fit who you are. (For example; you could be bi-polar but on medication and very stable).
- Employers are legally bound not to discriminate on MH grounds…but the unofficial culture may be very different. If you’re high-functioning and don’t require extra support, it can be frustrating to be judged on perceived weaknesses, even though you’re very capable.
- You don’t tell employers details about your childhood or your relationships – arguably this is another area that should be respected as private.
- Employers are increasingly aware of MH conditions and keen to get better. The more open we are about MH, the easier it becomes for others to declare as well.
- Your employers need to know who you are – not to rule you out, but to provide appropriate support if you need it. E.g; sick leave, changes to your working area or working hours, a greater chance to work from home, time off for treatment or assessment, mentoring or coaching and making allowances for behaviours that won’t otherwise be understood.
- It’s exhausting and demoralising to pretend to be someone you’re not. Making small-talk over the printer is hard enough, without having to wear an extra mask.
- MH struggles can make us feel out of control. But disclosure can be a way of taking it back, e.g: request a private meeting with your manager to discuss the condition, how it relates to work, and what help they can provide to support you.
- If you don’t tell your employer and they find out, they may have grounds to penalise or even dismiss you.
- If you start to feel you’re not coping, it might help to have someone at work who will work with you to stop it becoming a bigger issue.
Here are some questions you might want to consider before disclosing…
- Is your MH holding you back or impacting upon your relationships at work?
- Are people misjudging you or misunderstanding you because they don’t know about your condition?
- Do you feel that you’re being held back?
- What is the ethos and culture of the company?
- Who do you want to tell and how much do you want to disclose? (Would this be one-to-one, or via a doctor’s note?)
- What do you want people to know?
Places that may help:
- Acas will be able to give you more information on the types of adjustments employers can make. They have a helpline on 0300 123 1100.
- Mind have a helpline on 0300 466 6463 and they have a template for disclosure.
- The Time to Change campaign is trying to stamp out the stigma of mental health in the workplace, so can give advice.
What are your experiences?