One in five adults experience mental illness within any given year, and one in five youth will struggle with a mental disorder at least once in their life. Presumably, most of these people have jobs, attend school, or do both. Juggling mental illness on top of work, education and other life responsibilities can be tricky, especially given the huge stigma against speaking openly about mental health.
The intimidation factor only increases when you start wrestling with how difficult it may be to speak to the people who have the ability to fire you, or the people who grade your assignments, about your mental health issues. However, if you feel that confiding in your superiors about your mental illness might help boost your performance and is a necessary step in helping you feel more comfortable at work or school, it is doable.
Here are some tips on disclosing your mental health status to those working or teaching above you.
1. Know Your Rights
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is “a federal law that prohibits discrimination against job applicants and employees with disabilities.” To be protected by the ADA, you must be able to show that your disability interferes with “one or more major life activities,” but that you are also able to complete the most important tasks of your job “with or without reasonable accommodations.” This brings me to my next point, which is finding out the types of accommodations you qualify for.
2. Talk to HR or a Counselor Before Your Boss or Teacher
Rather than rushing to disclose your mental illness to your boss or teacher, who unfortunately may not be well versed in the accommodations you need, speak to someone in HR or a school guidance counselor first.
These people are trained to work with students or employee struggling with a mental illness, and will hopefully be empathetic and well informed enough to tell you the types of accommodations you can receive based off of your mental illness.
A friend of mine at school is now able to get extra time for tests because of a concentration disorder, and she knows that had she not talked to the guidance counselor about her disability first, she wouldn’t be receiving that necessary extra time. “Some teachers still don’t believe me and think they shouldn’t have to cater to me, but my counselor has proof that giving me extra time to work isn’t just something I want, it’s something I need in order to do well in their class,” she says.
3. A Heads-Up Will Be Appreciated
Telling your employer or teacher you might have difficulty completing a certain task before it is assigned to you, or that you may have to step out of class or a meeting for a moment to quell your anxiety, will show that you are responsible and want to do the best work you can. As another one of my friends put it, “I have told my employers when I’m having a bad day or week (not disclosing that’s because of my illnesses) before it affects my work; they tend to then be more sympathetic than if I [had] told them after damage has been done.”
My friend brings up another good point here: If you don’t trust your teacher or employer will be at all receptive towards disclosure of your mental illness (perhaps due to past employee or student experiences with this person), and you know that HR or a guidance counselor really won’t help or is unavailable to you, try explaining that you are having a bad day or bad week to your teacher or employer. See how they react to this admission, and gauge whether or not you think they’d react kindly to knowing the actual cause of the bad time you are having.
About 18.5% of adults experience mental illness — there is a bittersweet comfort in knowing that at least a few of your teachers, employers, and colleagues are included within that statistic, or have someone close to them that is. Hopefully knowing these tips and statistics will make disclosing your mental health issues at work or school easier; if not, there are legal steps that can be taken.
Have you ever disclosed your mental illness at work or school? Share your tips and experiences on doing so below.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.