Should you disclose your Depression at Work?

Sometimes a job is just a job, but for most people it is much more. We spent in our office with our coworkers or customers more time than with our family. Occasionally, we give away at work so much of our internal energy and emotions, that coming home you feel totally “empty” and exhausted. Our workplace is our second home and often provides our second family. It can be either the provider or the destroyer of our self-worth. We define ourselves to a great extent by our work - after all, what is one of the first questions we are asked when we meet someone new? "What do you do?"

The work might be stressful and tiresome for all, but for people with depression it may become unbearable. Some can barely drag themselves to work every day, considering that as inevitable evil, required only to keep the paycheck coming monthly. If they work in an individual office, they might notice themselves just sitting and blankly staring at their computers. If they are in the service industry, they might find themselves snapping at their customers, venting negative emotions out of the soul. In any case, depressive episodes affect their concentration abilities, which in certain jobs, like construction or operating machinery, can be disastrous. No matter of how employees are good and knowledgeable, the noticed behavior and attitude eventually will be noticed and reported, which most likely will cost them their jobs.

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Should you disclose your Medical Conditions to Coworkers, Management, and HR?

There are just two approaches you can choose dealing with the situation: you either disclose your condition at work or you don't. In either circumstance, you should get treatment for depression, of course, if you aren't already.

There is no one distinctive correct answer to the question, because each case is different, and the decision should be made after detailed consideration of your medical condition, character of your occupation, relations at workplace, and other multiple supplemental factors. It is highly recommended to get professional advice from your therapist on the topic. But still decision should be yours, as you will feel the possible consequences of that, and no reversed action can be made, as soon as your depression becomes a public knowledge. You do understand that you cannot be absolutely sure that confidentiality can be obtained, and the disclosed information may leek to the party, you would like to be unaware on your illness.

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There are several issues to consider before you use one or another approach.

Reasons not to disclose

Some people choose to be fairly open about their depression at work. In many cases, they might notice a distinct chilling in someone's attitude towards them after the disclosure. You have to be ready to the unpredictable reactions from your colleagues and supervisors. Compassion and understanding might be also accompanied with attempts to avoid taking join projects with you and moving you to less important project tasks. Partially that might be to decrease a pressure on you, but also to great extent to find more reliable performer for the task.

Remember that you are always running a risk when you disclose your depression to anyone at work, even if you are promised to keep that confidential. You may feel that if you've comfortably discussed details of your love life with a co-worker or co-workers, you should be able to discuss anything. You should not count on that. Mental illness falls into a whole new category of true confessions. The subject is still taboo, and is still misunderstood by many people who haven't had a friend or family member who has a mental illness. There is no doubt that it could affect your potential for advancement. 

Your employer definitely recognizes the fact that the happy employees are productive employees. So it's in a company's best interests to make sure workers get what they need to be healthy — mentally and physically. However, a stigma still surrounds mental illness. Depending on the atmosphere and environment you work in, disclosing depression can seem like asking for trouble in many cases. Your coworkers may see it as an excuse; your boss may think of you as weak, and you might even be the subject of gossip. Of course, this shouldn't be the case. But who hasn't worked at a company where acting human — instead of like a cog in the machine — was viewed as a flaw? Any kind of personal issues were frowned upon; nothing mattered except the work.

As a general note, unless you take the medications, impairing your performance in the course of your job, you are not required by Law to disclose your conditions to your employer.

Some work cultures are more difficult, if not impossible, in which to disclose your mental illness. I have received several heartbreaking emails over the years from people in the U.S. military who were afraid to even seek treatment for their depression, even from a non-military doctor, for fear that they would be exposed somehow. I'm sure they were right to be concerned.

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Reasons you should disclose

One guideline is to be open only when it would be worse to keep quiet. In other words, if it's clear that your performance has suffered and you are afraid that you are going to be fired, you need to disclose your condition. Definitely, bringing your condition up at the moment when you are in the process of being fired due to your performance won't protect you, because you didn't give your company the opportunity to accommodate your condition. The ADA requires employers to make accommodation to an employee with a "known condition."

"I think we've come a long way in terms of identifying that depression is an important issue in the workplace," says Dr. Michelle Riba, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. "But for the individual who's working in an office or another situation, one really needs to think about why any medical condition would be discussed. Not that there's anything wrong with disclosing, but one has to be really clear about what one hopes to gain."

The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against people with serious health problems (including depression), and it requires them to accommodate disabled employees. In order to be protected by the law, however, employees must disclose the nature of their disability to their employers.

Another reason you might want to disclose your depression is if you know of another employee who disclosed that they are mentally ill and were treated fairly. In this situation, it's better that your employer know than letting them think that you are simply a poor performer.

"Assuming your employer is understanding, it's always better to tell about your depression," says Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, noting that if your company provides mental health coverage, there's a better chance you'll get a positive reaction when you disclose your depression.

"A good relationship with your boss is an indicator you can go public," recommends Gabriela Cora, a psychiatrist and MBA who practices at the Florida Neuroscience Center in Fort Lauderdale. But will you have the same good relationship with your boss after your disclosure, remains a big question…

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Summary

As a general concept, most experts say if you’re diagnosed with depression, do not immediately tell about that your coworkers, manager, or Human Resources. Claire Miller is the director of the American Psychiatric Foundation’s Partnership for Workplace Mental Health. She says you should only tell your employer if your anti-depressants make you so sleepy that you need a later start to your workday, or if your depression is affecting your job performance. However, if you do feel that your performance has degraded as a result of your illness, do not wait until you get a bad review! Also find out the company’s stance on mental health – there might be a professional on staff you can see – or you could take a leave of absence.


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