For people experiencing mental illness, it can be challenging to know what or how much to disclose to employers. Diversity & Inclusion expert, Darby Eakins, dispels 3 common myths to help.

Darby Eakins, M.A. is a Leadership and Workplace Consultant with MyWorkplaceHealth. Darby is also a Certified Psychological Safety Advisor and has spent the last 15 years working at the intersection of well-being and vocation. Her passion is helping create healthier workspaces to enhance employee engagement and organizational success.

With increasing awareness about the impacts of psychological injury and mental illness in the workplace, one does not need to look far to find articles and PR campaigns about how mental health matters and that workplaces need to be more understanding and aware. But for employees experiencing a psychological illness or injury that impacts them at work, the experience can feel very foggy.

Having worked at the intersection of psychological health and vocation for 15 years, I have heard many of the same questions and myths from employees experiencing mental health difficulties. The following create a lot of confusion.

Myth #1: “I have to disclose my diagnosis to my employer.”

You no not need to disclose any medical diagnosis to your employer, at any time.
Some large and sophisticated employers and/or unions have Human Resources and/or Disability Management programs with case managers who are dedicated to supporting employees who are ill, injured or struggling in the workplace for medical reasons. These programs should have an informed consent process where you can ask your questions about participation and confidentiality, and these programs should maintain your medical information in strict confidentiality from your direct supervisor.

If you work at a smaller organization, there is not likely to be a case management team. Your employer has a right to understand what barriers might be present to you meeting expectations at work in order to support you. This is not the same as disclosing a diagnosis, but you might disclose that you need a quiet workspace or a different work schedule. Requests for support from your employer should be met with empathy and understanding, as well as curiosity. Your employer may require more information, such as a letter from your doctor explaining why you are requesting an accommodation at work. This might say something like “for medical reasons, difficulty concentrating in loud, busy areas and requires a quiet space to write reports 1 day/week.”
Under Human Rights legislation, an employer has a “Duty to Accommodate” employees who have illness, injury or disability.

Myth#2: “I don’t have to tell my employer anything.”

It is also a myth that you have no responsibility to communicate with your employer about your medical needs.
If you are requesting particular kinds of supports at work in order to manage your illness and be productive at work, your employer has an obligation to support you, and a right to information in order to assess how they can best support you. This does not mean disclosing your diagnosis, but it does mean communicating and cooperating with your employer to come up with a solution that is supportive of your needs and does not negatively impact the services of the company.

Myth#3: “Seeking support for my illness will hold me back from promotions.”

Most provinces will have language in their Human Rights legislation that employers cannot discriminate against employees or hold them back from advancement due to a disability (which includes psychological injury and illness).
Your performance and ability to advance should be evaluated on the merit of the work you do. It is not uncommon, however, that symptoms of psychological illness will, indeed, impact a person’s ability to meet the expectations of their job. If this is the case, this is exactly when employees should be talking with their healthcare team (family doctor and counselor or psychologist) and employer to come up with a plan for how to manage the illness and be successful in the workplace. The simple fact of having a psychological illness should not impede a person’s ability to be promoted, but if symptoms start to impact work performance it is important to take steps to manage and address these issues. In fact, in my experience, employees who take a proactive and collaborative approach to managing a psychological illness in the workplace are often seen as more productive and successful.

To learn more about the training Darby offers or about other MyWorkplaceHealth service offerings, get in touch!