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Mental Health in the Workplace: To Disclose or Not?

Written by: Tonya J. Williams, B.A., J.D. 

This July, we are focusing our content on ‘Minority Identities and Mental Health’, a blog series honoring #MMHAM that discusses the mental health risks, issues, and resources specifically affecting minority populations and identities.  

I live with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.

I was diagnosed more than 10 years ago.

Since that time, I have been employed a number of places. Each time, I have had to consider whether to disclose my illness. I chose not to.

This decision is important and intensely personal. On the one hand, disclosure may subject us to prejudice, discrimination and intolerance. On the other hand, disclosing one’s illness opens the door to receive accommodations and also gives us the chance to receive support in the workplace. Balancing these competing considerations isn’t always easy.

A related issue is whether to disclose our disability during our search for employment. In some cases, it may assist us in our quest. Organizations that serve the disabled are often looking for people who are disabled. Other organizations also might give special consideration to candidates with disabilities. By contrast, some interviewers might be inclined to pass over disabled candidates, so disclosing one’s disability could potentially cost you a job.

While federal, state and local law protect the disabled, there are individuals who do not follow the law. As a result, disabled people can lose employment opportunities if they disclose their disability. It is important for our lawmakers to continue to support legislation making it costly to discriminate against the disabled. It is also important that agencies charged with enforcing the law and organizations that support the disabled function as they should to protect a part of our community that can be more vulnerable.

Disclosure is a sensitive issue. In N.C., Disability Rights North Carolina is one agency that protects and defends the rights of disabled people. Before deciding to disclose your disability in the workplace, discuss it with someone close to you who has your best interest at heart. They can help you choose what you’re most comfortable with and then help you navigate your disability rights.

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