The risks of telling your workplace about your mental health issues can depend on where you work, and where you live. If you’re in a care role, especially in the UK, you often get really great support around mental health, as they’re aware such roles have a high burnout rate. Thus, supporting you is very much in their best interest. However, other jobs and businesses might not be so understanding, even in this day and age.
First off, you’re under no legal obligation to tell your workplace about your health or mental health conditions. However, there are a few situations where you are required to tell your employer.
- Your employer can ask you about your health if it directly relates to the job role. Therefore, if you’re applying for a truck driver role, then they can ask about your eyesight.
- If it’s written in the employment contract and is related to your ability to do the job, then you’re required to share the relevant information with them.
- If you have a medical condition that might affect the safety of your coworkers and/or the general public, then you also have to tell your employer. Failing to do so in this instance could result in you being charged with negligence, should anything happen.
A survey of 44,000 employees revealed that half of those who had experienced poor mental health had talked to their employer about it, suggesting that as many as one in four UK workers is struggling in silence Click To Tweet
Pros of Telling Your Workplace
If you’re working in the NHS or other healthcare roles, you normally get a lot of support if you’re struggling with your mental health, because there’s a high turnover rate in that line of work. You’re also very well protected when working for the NHS because it’s a national health care service. Thus, they’ll try to make your hours more flexible for your needs.
You’ll also be able to claim paid sick leave in the UK. When I worked for a substance abuse charity, a lot of the staff were former clients with past substance dependency problems. As such, they had health issues caused by those times. I saw that they got a lot of support around those health issues to make sure they could continue working there. Good staff are hard to find in that line of work due to the high turnover and burnout rates.
If your mental health condition is considered a disability, then informing your workplace means they’re required by law to make reasonable adjustments to allow you to do your job.
It’s illegal to be discriminated against because of a mental health or health condition, so it can be to your advantage to share these with your employer to create an honest work environment. Thus, it could take a weight off your shoulders to do so.
It can protect your employment. If you’re asked about health issues during the interview and/or during a health questionnaire, but you don’t mention anything about a recurrent mental health problem that does end up affecting your work, then your employer could argue that you’ve breached the duty of mutual trust and confidence. If you then find yourself dealing with a dismissal case for a non-health reason, you wouldn’t be able to use your recurrent health problem as a defence, as you hadn’t declared it.
As I said in ‘What To Do When Your Cries For Help Are Ignored‘, your organisation might have support for mental health support in place, which you could then access if you don’t mind some members of your workplace knowing.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), even Americans can’t be fired for having a disability or mental health condition. Which, to be honest, I’m kind of surprised about. Thus, under American law, reasonable accommodations should be made to help you with your job. However, the ADA doesn’t apply to businesses with under 15 employees, so take care if you’re working for a small business.
Con’s of Telling Your Workplace
Although the world is becoming more understanding of mental health conditions, there’s still the risk of stigma to deal with. Plus, as the ADA seems to suggest, if you’re working for a small business, then you don’t benefit from its protection. Thus, the stigma around mental health could become a real issue for you.
Your workplace might try to overcompensate with their approach to supporting you after you informed them of your mental health issues. They might be doing this with the best intentions, but the results of which could be a problem for you.
Your manager or boss might not realise they’re treating you differently, but a lot of people have unconscious biases about things they don’t really understand. This should be less of an issue if your workplace has unconscious bias training. Lots of workplaces have started implementing unconscious bias training or other initiatives in the wake of black lives matter. However, if you feel they’re overcompensating for you and you point it out, they’ll more than likely do something to address the problem.
My Cautionary Workplace Tale
I had an unfortunate encounter with my placement while doing my post-graduate degree. I applied for a volunteer alcohol practitioner role with a substance abuse charity. I applied for this placement because I needed to work with clients to get my clinical hours in order to complete my course, needing 50 hours to write a case study and a total of 100 hours for my course.
During the interview, they asked about health and mental health issues, so I told them about my heart condition and that I’ve got borderline personality disorder (BPD). Although I didn’t tell them about my anxiety disorders, because multiple mental health disorders would seem too much. I was interviewed for a role and offered the position as soon as the interview was completed. They asked, so I told them in case my health issues would require me to take time off, which my heart condition has caused me to do before.
The role perfectly met my course requirement, according to the job description, so I accept the position. Why wouldn’t I? I’d worked for a different branch of this charity before for several years, so I didn’t foresee there being any problems. But that would turn out to be a mistake.
For some reason, everything went downhill from there. The manager put me in a position that wasn’t the one I was interviewed for and which didn’t allow me to get any of the client hours I need. So that wasn’t a great start, but I did the job away, hoping it was a temporary position. Unfortunately, it turned out to be temporary in a way I didn’t expect.
The role was an outreach service at a satellite site, but the person I was working with was hired on a short-term contract that was going to end two weeks after I started. They didn’t know what I would be doing after their contract ended; I didn’t know what I was doing afterwards (not for the wanting of asking the manager to find out), and it would seem the manager didn’t know either.
The manager in charge of me there was substandard in replying to my communications, so after that two weeks, I had no place to go to work as I couldn’t be at the satellite site without a paid worker there, and I hadn’t been given anything else to do.
Even though I’d stated numerous times why I had applied for the role, what I needed to get from the role, and what my deadline was for achieving it, nothing was happening. I’d told this manager that information in my application, during the interview, and subsequently, in all my communications with the manager. I’d done this role before at a different branch of the charity, so it was a simple thing to arrange, but it never got sorted out.
I spent months chasing up and waiting on replies from this manager to get my hours but to no avail. It just didn’t make sense. If they needed me to do some training first, then start me on the training. If they needed me to shadow a paid worker’s client load, then just hand me off to one of the paid workers and let us get on with it. It really wasn’t a hand thing to sort out. I’d been through this once before at the other branch of this service.
Months passed, but nothing. The manager just kept telling me to wait, and that they’d get back to me, but they never did. Which left me with a huge problem. I couldn’t complete my coursework, I couldn’t complete my 100 hours, and I couldn’t complete my course because of this.
Because of the situation, I had to apply for extenuating circumstances with my university to be allowed to repeat the module. Winning the appeal would mean I would have to pay to repeat the module, several thousand pounds I simply couldn’t afford; if my appeal was unsuccessful, I would have failed my course and wasted a tonne of money on tuition. I couldn’t believe I’d been put in this situation.
Thus, I made a complaint to the charity as there was a lot of money on the line and my postgraduate degree. I mean, I’d interviewed and been given a specific job, but never got to actually do that job, and I wanted to know why. I was also going to use this complaint as part of m evidence for my extenuating circumstances claim with my university.
There was seriously no reason why this situation should have come about, and the only reason why it would, is if you’re inept at your managerial role. It would literally take one email or a quick chat with the alcohol practitioner team to allocate me to one of them, then they’d take over.
I also wanted to make sure this wouldn’t happen again with someone else from my course if they applied here. Therefore, I was hoping this complaint would mean they’d put things in place, like establishing a proper pathway needed to fulfil that role, clearly laid out, and initiated when they start in the role.
However, they didn’t care that this manager had put my postgraduate degree at risk; they didn’t care that they’d cost me thousands of pounds in doing so, and they didn’t care that it was going to cost me further thousands to redo it. All the charity cared about was covering their own asses and trying to insinuate it was somehow my fault because of my mental health, even though it wasn’t a factor in any of it.
In the letter they sent me, it had the following paragraph:
The suggestion that applications are screened by the volunteer counsellor and Psychological Interventions Lead means it will help ensure that the volunteer is allocated to the most appropriate area of work
Somehow, they seem to think it was my mental health at fault for why this manager couldn’t execute a simple task. To this day, I have no idea why this manager didn’t do one of these two super easy options of starting my training or allocating me someone to shadow.
This is why you need to be careful. Your place of work will try to pass the blame from them to you if they know you have a mental health problem.
Because I was a volunteer, I wasn’t protected by the same rights as an employee would be, and because of that, I had to pay for resisting an entire module due to this one manager.
What made all this worse, was when I was working at the other branch of this substance abuse charity, I’d worked there with the person that had interviewed me, who was also the manager I’d been talking about.
Don’t be put off by my story. Mine was an unfortunate and unique situation, and I was a volunteer worker. As such, I wasn’t protected by any of the usual employee rights and laws.
There are more positives than negatives to informing your workplace about your mental health, but unless your mental health is a continuous problem that may affect your work or the safety of others, then you’re not required to tell your workplace. Therefore, there’s no pressure to do so.
But if you want to tell your workplace for other reasons or because you feel you need support through them, then I hope this article will help you with that decision. It might also be helpful to do a cost/benefit analysis yourself on the matter, to help guide your decision.
Lastly, if you are looking for support for your mental health, then it may be a good idea to start by looking for support elsewhere first. You can also check out my Global Crisis Lines And Support and UK Crisis Lines And Support pages for support as a good place to start. If you can get your support elsewhere, then it might mean you won’t need to tell your workplace anymore.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of informing your workplace about your mental health in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
For More Information
Gov.uk – Reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.
NHS – Returning to work after mental health issues.
Mind – Discrimination at work.
Law Care – Disclosing mental health in the workplace.
Mental Health America – Can I be fired for my mental illness?
Mind – You can contact Mind for support around these issues.
Mental Health At Work – Resources to support workplace mental health.