If you suffer from BP or any other mental illness it can be hard to decide who to tell, who to trust, and especially if your employer will be understanding.
When I first had a breakdown in 2010 whilst I still lived in the UK. I think because everyone around me did not see it coming they were more shocked than anything and my employer let me take some time off and my project team was really good when I finally went back to work and needed to leave early for counseling etc. I had been with this company for 4 years by this point, moving up through the system, which I think greatly helped the situation.
When I emigrated I wasn’t on medication, but by the end of 2012 I was in another spiral and finally got diagnosed with BP. Again I ended up being very fortunate with my employer, when I finally sat down and explained my situation with my boss he, very candidly, explained that he was treated for depression and had been for a very long time, and he understood how hard things could be.
I have been very lucky in both cases- I could not have asked for a better response to be honest. But I know most are not so fortunate.
What they need to know?
Employers all have different policies on medications and sick leave. Most commonly you will be asked for a doctors note if you have taken any extended medical leave. The level of information provided on the note is at the discretion of the doctor and should be discussed with you at the time of writing. In a 2014 article by Scientific American it was noted that:
In a 2011 survey of more than 2,000 people, about a quarter reported experiencing a mental health problem on the job, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a British human resources agency. In the U.S., depression alone causes employees to miss 200 million days of work every year, costing employers $31 billion in lost revenue.
Despite the overwhelming numbers of sufferers, mental illness is still stigmatized, especially in the workplace. The fact is- in all the reading I have done I have found that in all countries it is illegal for an employer to dismiss you for informing them you have a mental illness. For example in the UK the Equality Act outlines that no-one with a “disability” can be prejudiced against in the workplace. Though you may note like the work “disability” when referring to mental health issues, this still encompasses those issues. Having said this there are plenty of cases where the employer has been informed of such issues and suddenly found other reasons to release the employee from their position. This makes the decision to be open about your situation a difficult choice.
I think the key times to really come forward to your employer is if any of the following apply:
- Your medication can effect your ability to drive a vehicle or machinery required for your work
- You struggle to maintain focus in your day to day life, making it possible that your work performance could be impacted
- Your medication makes you drowsy, especially to the point of putting you to sleep at work (this has been the case for me repeatedly)
- You will need possible allowances for appointments to see therapists/ psychiatrist or have tests run.
- Specific situations in your employment create increased risk to your mental health, that may need eliminating/ avoiding or minimizing from your role.
If one or multiples of the above apply to you then it is strongly advisable to sit down with your employer to discuss the situation. If none of these apply then it is perhaps best to consider what benefits you get from telling your employer, in most cases this wont be much at all.
Most large multi-national companies do have in house provisions or benefits that can also help such as in-house counseling. Again this is not a mandatory requirement if you tell your employer, you can opt for private counseling or none at all.
What to Say?
I found a great article from Boston University regarding what to say and when. There is a big debate on when to tell your employer- before your employed, straight after your employed or a while in. Its a step backwards in removing the stigma of mental health but I honestly would say wait a year unless you need special considerations from the start. I hate that I am say it, but at least you have time to prove yourself as a good employee to your employer and become a member of a team.
In terms of what to say- that is entirely, like everything else, your decision. You can go into as much or as little detail as you want, depending on how open you want to be and how much impact your situation has on your role. In my case I said what my diagnosis was and that I was on a few different medications (I did not go into detail as to exactly what they were) and that I had appointments I had to attend with a psychiatrist and a therapist, but that I would try my best to always book them as late in the day as I could to limit the impact on work hours. My boss actually asked at that point if there was anything they could do to help or if I needed my role changing in anyway. They appreciated my candid approach to the subject, and were receptive. He then went on to tell me about his medication and depression as a way of making me feel more comfortable with having come forward. By telling them it has helped when, for example in one instance I was falling asleep at my desk every morning as a side effect to a new medication- he obviously wasn’t please by it but was more understanding because he knew the reason- he offered me leave to adjust to them, which I ended up declining and switched medication very soon after.
In the end the decision is yours! I just hope this article helps give you some guidance on when and what to say. There are people out there who understand and employers that will help- it isn’t all bad! I would love to hear other peoples positive and negative experiences on this, so feel free to email or comment.