Disclosing mental health problems at work

Adele*, aged 42, NSW

My employer has it on record that I have an illness but I do not publicly announce my problems. Returning to work after an episode including five weeks of hospitalisation was not easy. On a personal level I shook with fear at my desk as I no longer had confidence in myself. I had made myself do all the normal things- get up, shower and dress and get to work- however my thoughts were dominated by uncertainty in myself. My close friends advised having more time off but I knew that was not an option. To gain confidence again I just had to do it.

Should I tell my employer if I have a mental illness?

There is no one right answer to this question. The decision to disclose a mental health problem varies according to the employee's circumstances, the workplace culture and relationships with supervisors and colleagues. In some cases, people report that disclosure made their working lives more difficult, while others report that it enabled them to get the help and support they needed to work productively.

An employer is legally obliged to provide reasonable adjustments for an employee with a mental illness. However, if you do not tell your employer about your mental health problem and any adjustments that would help you, then they are not able to provide these. However, it may be that you do not need special support at work.

Experiences of stigma and discrimination usually happen as a result of ignorance and fear. Your employer's concerns are likely to arise out of assumptions about your ability to do your job. If you can show them that your aim is to keep working productively then this will help minimise these concerns. Discussing your mental health in a straightforward, unembarrassed way can also help those around you to do the same.

If you do decide to disclose a mental health problem:

  • think about how and when to do it
  • how much information you want to give, what kind of information, and who to share it with
  • be aware that you don't have to go into personal details
  • focus on what you need for the job

Useful links

MIND UK's Should I tell?

JobAccess guide to disclosure and privacy

SANE's Getting back to work factsheet

Social Firms Australia Job Seekers Handbook