Disclosing your mental health problems at work?


Well, my voice is now done coming out of the radio, but you can listen again on BBC iPlayer, Radio 4. Thank you if you listened, thank you for lovely tweets and thank you Radio 4 for having me!

The topic last week- and touched upon this week- was disclosing mental health problems at work. People are now protected in that we no longer have to disclose a history of mental health problems on application forms. There’s also legal protection under the Disability Discrimination Act.

But in practice, how much of a barrier to discrimination are these things? While laws may change, do peoples’ attitudes?

How do you feel about disclosing mental health problems at work? If you have done so, did it change anything? Were you supported?

I’ve disclosed once just after I’d been diagnosed and I disclosed because I had been told I should. I was unwell at the time so the reaction I got was more likely due to the very blatantness of my illness (this was the job in which I spent an afternoon drawing moustaches on sticky paper then plastering them on my face and my monitor because I’d finished my work at light speed and had finished all the emails I had sent the bosses with my great ideas. Then I went into the directors’ office covered in moustaches, did a dance and then paced up and down the 12th floor singing. Then I went home and applied for jobs as a gym instructor despite being 12 stone at the time. So, er!)

What do you think?

26 Responses

  1. Hi,

    One job I did disclose, the next I did not.

    At the one I disclosed, they found EVERY reason imaginable to avoid promoting me into a role that everyone I worked with (both above and below me) knew I was more than capable of and kept recomending me for.

    I evertually left because they would not give me this promotion.

    The job I now have, I took at the level I was trying to get to at the first job. It’s a very similar type of business and of a similar size. They are very happy with me and I with them. I could go further if I wanted to, but I’m not sure if I to be promoted further as I have been to this 3rd level before and it contributed to me becoming ill.

    Despite all the legal protection that is supposed to be in place, mental health discrimination is alive and well today and unless you have a huge pot of cash to fight it, the law is meaningless.

    Indeed, 2 weeks ago I was refused the right to study for and gain a qualification specifically because of my mentalism. They simply told me to “sue them” if I didn’t like it. The cost to sue them? About £50,000


    • What qualification was this, how could they bar you? That’s insane.

      • Hi Seaneen,

        The qualification was Chartered Management Accountant (ACMA) from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and I have the response in writing!

        I have been to half a dozen solicitors and none want to take the case on as its not mainstream and not simple.


  2. In my last job, my bipolar took hold before I knew what it was. It crashed with a glib attempt at an overdose (getting drunk and taking a handful of pills from the family medicine box) and ending up out of it and taken to the local emergency unit. I’d also been a drama queen, and told my ex id written a note and my kids were here for him to take. He chose to us this cry for help to keep his biological child – aged 9 at the time – and leave the 2 others from my first marriage – here. They were 16 and 17. I was off work for a total of 13 months due to my delayed recovery and his emotional blackmail. When – after months of sobriety, group therapy, self reading and support from my HR I returned to work. I went back to work, I decided to speak with my team members, my support system at work. Within the first week, I was summoned to my manager, who decided I wasnt helping the ‘team’ by sharing my new found knowledge of mental ill health. All I was doing was explaining my ‘restlessness’ and ‘hyperness’ was due to my new found diagnosis of bipolar. In our lunch hour. If they asked me. I was told a new work review needed to be done, I was then advised, as work was so stressful, and the management team were short staffed, it would be better to be re – sicknoted. I did, and within the month, I was made compulsary redundant. Thanks to Barnardos for that. I wasnt the only one in this position.
    I am happy to say, after 4 months redundancy (let me tell you, the Job centre DOES NOT HELP when it comes to mental ill health!) I found myself another position.independantly of any support from the UK government. I am now working part time. Not entitled to any benefits and worse off than on JSA. But I will tell you – Id rather that than ANY ONE OF THEM treating me as they did!

    My advice??? Keep the info to people you trust until it comes out and you cant hide it. In my experience, trusting people at work WORKS…..until their jobs come up at risk!!! Good Luck all of you xxx

  3. My illness was disclosed for me when I became unwell while working in one job. During that time I was diagnosed. After long periods signed off work while I wrestled to recover, the occupational health department revealed themselves to be obstructive in the extreme, and I finally bowed to pressure and resigned. Looking back, it was constructive dismissal, but I was too ill to do anything about it – and they knew it.

    I didn’t work for 6 months, and then temped part time until I could be sure I could handle my messed up life. I didn’t reveal anything to the temp agency. During that time, I learned how to manage my illness, and found a sense of recovery and stability.

    One of the companies I temped for long term (1year), finally offered me a permanent part time job. It was only at this point I revealed my health status. They had experience of me by this time, and knew me to be a good worker. They still offered me the job (although I’d been quite clear that if they wished to rescind the offer based on what I’d disclosed, I would not raise a fuss). I worked for them for 2 years, and never had anything less than excellent treatment. They were a wonderful employer and I tried to be an excellent employee by looking after myself and recognising my limitations.

    I promised from that point forward that I would never hide again. I will share my diagnosis, but not with all and sundry. I don’t really discuss it with colleagues, because I consider that if I make it an issue, then it will become an issue. Besides, there is still too much stigma in the general population and it’s no fun being at the sharp end of tittle tattle and fear. However, I will share it with the occupational health and HR teams.

    The pressure of working for an employer and keeping this a secret is too hard. It impacts my ability to do my job. However, one good experience has given me faith that there are enlightened employers out there.

    I accept that I have an enduring mental health issue, and that I a relapse is probable, no matter how carefully I try to look after myself. At that point, no matter how understanding the employer, I recognise that I will probably lose my job again. But I can’t live worried about that day. I need ‘normality’ around me and functioning in a job is one of the things that gives me meaning, purpose and self-respect.

  4. I was employed – I won’t say with which organisation or in what capacity – because I have Bipolar; it was a pre-requisite of the job. At the start, it was apparent how capable, organised and generally well suited to the job I was. This, for some reason, became a problem. My boss piled – and I mean ‘piled’ – all her work on to me and my senior worker while she surfed the internet or read the Daily Mail, then, when I confronted her about the huge workload she was giving me and how it was outside of my job description, and completely undo-able on a 25 hour a week contract (we’re talking NHS meetings, LHA, third sector, self-help group presentations, hospital visits; running training courses, providing supervisions and emotional support to volunteers, admin, interviews, attending training courses myself, developing a newsletter plus her duties of press contacting, database developments, networking and more) and throughout a four county area and several hours travelling per week, she asked me if I ‘was up to the job’. And when, astounded by her patronising arrogance, I defended myself and pointed out how she was delegating work to me and to my senior (who, in turn was also piling work on to me because she didn’t have the time to do the boss’s work either), she said I was paranoid. From that moment on, she treated me like I was ill, as did others after she inferred to them, also, that my health was deteriorating and I was paranoid. From here, people treated me with caution and made me feel like a very unwelcome member of the organisation. I questioned myself: has she taken advantage of me, or am I paranoid; are they treating me different, or am I paranoid? In the end I was put under the care of the crisis team, after my constant focus and confused fixation on my workplace relationships became the scrutiny of my health professionals. Is she psychotic? Does she have paranoid personality disorder? Where I’d previously been on mood stabilisers alone, I was put on anti-psychotics and ended up two stone heavier and even less able to think clearly. After a month off work, my probationary period was renewed, but I felt out of place and really incongruous amongst the so-called ‘normal’ people around me. I fell into a deep depression and ended up taking another two months off work. When I returned, it was without any agreed reasonable adjustments (because the boss said the project wasn’t able to adapt to my needs), and it was with blurred understanding of what it was I was meant to be doing (all my tasks had been allocated to a temp and to other team members). This made me demotivated and, after another confrontation with the boss, who continued to manipulate me and others’ perceptions of me, I left after two weeks. I’ve since found myself another job where nobody apart from occupational health knows about my bipolar. I’ve also discovered that my ex-boss used to be a big boss in my new organisation before she was sacked for the bullying and harassment of several staff members who also experienced mental ill health. After my experience I’d only tell an occupational health department about my illness and I will never – ever – be open about bipolar again. (Seriously, this organisation would be well-known amongst you guys. It’s shocking!)

  5. I disclosed my mental health problems at university, because I didn’t really have a choice. I was probably too ill to actually be there: unreliable, irritating, antisocial and completely out of control…not to mention, for several months, badly medicated (I sort of stopped believing I existed). I found that the response I got depended a lot on who I spoke to (for some reason, no-one in my department seemed capable of actually communicating to each other, so I had to keep telling them). Most of them were sort of awkward but kind…smiling sympathetically and asking what they could do to help. Occasionally, I’d tell someone who’d look a bit bored, look at me blankly and suggest I do more work to catch up, as if the fact I’d told them about it meant everything was better and I was capable of any sort of intellectual exercise. The best response I got was actually from a lecturer who emailed me once to ask why I’d missed a seminar…I’d replied honestly, essentially saying, “sorry about that. I’ve just started taking antipsychotics. I was asleep”. He responded sympathetically, mentioning that he’d had similar problems in the past, and after that always asked how I was when he saw me (even though I always said “fine”, it was nice to hear that someone was bothered) and would email me lecture notes, too.

    I didn’t disclose it at the job I had when I was at uni. I was working with kids, teaching them about university etc, and when I’d applied they’d mentioned that they were looking for more people with disabilities, and I was terrified that if I mentioned my problems, they’d make me talk about them…I can stand in front of a group of disillusioned teenagers and be loud, entertaining and funny, but there was never ANY chance I was going to tell them about ‘Being a Student and Mental’.

    I haven’t told anyone at my current job, either. I think they’d be fine with it (one of my colleagues recently had some time off with depression, and the company was really supportive), but I personally can’t face the idea of them knowing. I don’t want pity, I don’t want to talk about it, and I don’t want to know that people are thinking about it when they look at me. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of problem with my personality, which means I’m constantly being introduced to people as “Laura, the crazy one” or being asked, “are you the one so-and-so said was mental?”, so perhaps people wouldn’t be hugely surprised if they knew the truth, but as things stand, I’d rather keep it a secret. If things were so bad I couldn’t do my job, I suppose they’d have to know, but I think it’s good for me to be in a situation where nobody’s making concessions, nobody’s trying to do me a favour…I’m doing the same thing as everybody else, and I’m coping, and I think it’s important to prove to myself that I can manage.

  6. When I first started getting ill (just after I had gotten my diagnosis) my direct line manager was great. Allowed me to take a few minutes out to go and try and clear my head, would give me admin work that wouldn’t involve being on a telephone talking to customers. One day I had a bit of a meltdown in the office and walked out and accidentally pushed a door a little harder than I should and it made a rather large bang that was heard through the office. When I came back my line manager and her two bosses were at my desk waiting for me. They had also called a member of the firms security team to the office.

    I was taken to a side office and told that I was being placed on indefinite leave until a review of my medication had taken place and I had been cleared by my Psych and Occupational Therapy. They claimed that I was a danger to my team.

    In hindsight I do see that they were just looking out for the other members of my team. They needn’t have worried, I have never been violent to anyone.. I just lost my cool with a door.

    I had been very open with my Line Manager about what I was going through and what my Doctors were saying, and I gave her permission to keep her bosses in the loop if they asked.

    After this incident I decided that I wouldn’t tell anyone but HR and my Line Manager from there on. I lasted with that attitude another 3 years (with several extended sick note periods.) In the end they decided that they could no longer work with my absences and terminated my contract. I haven’t worked since. I know that next year I am probably going to have to get out there and try and find some kind of work, but I have no idea how I’ll approach my illness with future employers.

  7. For a long time I was very lucky. I worked for one insurance company from 1965 to1998. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 in 1982. My company was aware of my problem from an earlier manic episode. They were very supportive until I had yet another hypomanic episode in late 1997. Three weeks after returning to work I was advised that I was to be made redundant. I was assured that the decision had nothing to do with my disorder. Yea right.
    Since then I have been unable to obtain worth-will employment. The problem has not been due to my heath. The area of heath was not covered until the short-listing process began. There have been very few applications which asked questions about health. The discrimination, if any, was based purely about age.

  8. At the company I worked for I didn’t announce my illness, but I never kept it a secret either and most of the people I worked with directly knew all about it and there was no problem. Unfortunately after a few years of being told I was doing great at the job the boss found out about my illness and everything changed. I endured 2 years of nasty bullying where he would do something and then pretend later in front of people he hadn’t and I was being paranoid. He tried to bully me into quiting but I’m stubborn and refused to leave a job that I loved and was good at. In the end all this led to me getting very ill and being signed off sick. While I was off the company announced they would be making a lot of people redundant, although in the end I was the only one let go. In hindsight it would have been so much better just to look for another job and get away from him. When I am finally better and go back to work I plan to tell people at the interview about my illness. If the people I might work for are predjudiced bastards then I’d rather know before I start and not be given the job than ever go through anything like that again. I realise this is going to make it harder to ever get work but at least I will hopefully be able to stay well in future. I know putting it on my CV will mean most people won’t even read it but who knows, if they think I’m worth getting in for an interview and meet me first maybe one will decide it’s not a problem.

  9. I heard a little of your section of “All in the Mind” and it sounded really good – well done! I missed the end unfortunately (as I was running through the hailstones to get to an appointment!).

    Anyyyyywaayyyy…I have only recently been diagnosed with having a mental health problem (May), although looking back I had clearly been ‘not so well’, on and off, for quite some time; I’d guess at about a decade (I had OK periods inbetween bouts though).

    I have disclosed to certain colleagues that I have had episodes of depression and anxiety, that I’m on medication and that I’ve had counselling. With some of them (the most trusted ones), I’ve even had in-depth discussions about various aspects of it all. The majority have been supportive, although I have been careful about who I’ve told – I wanted some of them to know in case I start going down again, as I’m crap at spotting it myself. Denial eh?! You’d hope they’d be supportive though, as they work in mental health! Work Occy Health appeared to not be that bothered when I called them to ask if I should notify them. Meh.

    Having said all that, there are still some work people I would not tell as I feel they’re quite judgemental (e.g. think mental ill health should have some obvious/distressing cause etc etc/that I wouldn’t cope with stressful stuff at all). I think that I’m generally fairly lucky where I work though, and I know of a number of colleagues with various degrees of past/present mental ill health etc.

    University Occy Health were suprisingly good though, and I felt like they listened to me. I’m glad I told them and disclosed fully as I’m covered under the Equality Act, although they know way more than my GP now! No issues so far – uni are willing to make adaptations such as longer rest periods if I do night shifts on placement (trainee MH nurse!). Just worried about disclosing (or not) to mentors etc on placement now.

  10. I hadn’t seen this when I wrote my own post about whether or not to disclose mental health issues in work and/or business (http://showard76.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/mental-health-issues-in-business-and-work-declare-or-not/) – very fitting! I guess I’m thinking ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’

  11. I had to disclose to Occupational Health, because of what my job is it’s not optional. I haven’t told anyone else at work, I have no need to. The issue is that when I started my job I was stable and well and that’s what I told them, and I very much got the impression that should I become a little more unwell (with depression, not particularly severe depression at that) there would be serious consequences, and lots of assessments and similar crap to go through before they let me work. Which of course means that now I am in a position where things are going slightly downhill again and instead of being able to get some help and nip it in the bud I am ignoring it, and hoping like hell it gets better by itself. Which, I am very sure, is not the point.

  12. I always end up telling people im bipolar in conversation. Its not a planned conversation. It just comes up. Although I am not sure yet if this is a good or a bad thing. I feel lit is extremely important to be understood as a person, and good or bad being bipolar is very much a part of who I am and how i develop as an individual. I feel it is important even in professional settings to get to know the people you work with and if that mean you happen to bring up your bipolar disorder than so be it. At the same time i understand that certain work environments and colleges may not be as responsive and supportive as i have found mine to be. As a makeup artist i find myself surrounded by very creative and open minded individuals who in most cases can relate to my struggles. Generally I have found this makes my colleges more likely to confide in me about their own depression or problems because i have let them into a very personal part of my life.

    Bottom line is always be yourself and never be ashamed.

  13. I have had problems disclosing my mental health at university people think I am unfit to be doing course. I got sacked from last job after being forced to return before was well and going off, tey were fine til knew diagnosis ( I was too unwell to fight)

    Anyhow I was wondering about you. so let me return question.

    Have you disclosed at university??

    How is it with lecturers and fellow students??


    • Yep, I have, to Occupational Health. I was worried I’d get found out and chucked off. I’m stupidly googlable (hence my privating most of my blog before I got a job and started uni). I had to get a statement from my doctor to confirm I was stable.

      One student knows a fair amount about me, others know nothing. I generally don’t mention it but a student heard me on a Rethink podcast so there’s that! I don’t try to hide it but nor do I really discuss it. I get the impression quite a lot of people in my cohort have had similar experiences. There’s been no real reaction when I’ve let things slip.

      My experiences are not as extreme as yours though so I’m not sure how I would feel in your position. (what is happening with your course, has anything changed?)

  14. Ooh is this an odd place for this conversation?? It seems weird that you think of my experiences as extreme, even more so ‘more extreme than yours’ . I am on course still I went back day after discharge, thats a fast turn-around 😉

    My cohort have a distorted view of mental healthand as such will make excellent social worker 😦

  15. Ps- I can no longer blog because it would be risking my career and also someone forwarded my blog to shrink, which helped get me sectioned . I miss it

    • Argh, what the hell is it with people doing that?! This is why I’m not anonymous, someone tried to use my identity here against me when I started this blog so I removed the power from anyone to do that. Twats.

      I think some of my cohort have distorted views too but hopefully that’ll change in 3 years!

  16. For anyone suffering any kind of mentalhealth problem I would reccommend Googling Adaptation Practice and its founder Dr Clive Sherlock. I am not bi-polar but have suffered bad epressive episodes and his methods have helped me enormously. He claims that Adaptation Practice can treat most kinds of mental disorders including bi-polar and eating disorders. Please give it a try – it works and pass this on to anyone you know who suffers from mental health problems.

  17. I recently came across your site and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Cure for Sweaty Feet

  18. Hello Please do not disclose also cancel going on the N.H.S. database.
    Never trust a Politician, stigma is still very prevalent in 20011…

  19. To date have lost jobs due to mh. Disclosed in all of them (had to but now would want/need to). Worst discrimination was when working in mh, manager broke my confidentiality. Appalling. There’s bit more protection now, but not from the stigma.
    Thanks for the discussion. I don’t blog any more but it’s good to read here now and then, I wish you well.

    • Hello Jo, Sorry for your situation, but do not give up, just put it down to experience and move on. The power of the web has led to volumes of debates and eduction but it has the drawback of being in the Public Domain.

  20. Hey, I’ve never ever felt it appropriate to bring my mental health problems up at work, but I come from a family that doesn’t really believe in mental health problems so I think I’m used to trying to hide them anyway. Part of the journey I’m on is being honest about my condition (BPD) and not hiding it because I am frightened of being judged or treated differently.

    Congratulations on your engagement! And I’m new here but I love your blog and look forward to reading more. I nominated you for the versatile blogger award:


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