should I disclose my depression to my boss?

A reader writes:

Does it ever make sense to let an employer know that you suffer from depression?

I take an antidepressant daily. I’m not seeing a therapist. I would call it more of a functional depression, where I can live with it, but at times it can feel worse and I have to force
myself to work. Does that make my depression something I would want to disclose to an employer?

Would an employer think less of you, or perhaps not hire you because you suffer from depression, even if it is protected by the law? When you’re currently employed, does it make sense to disclose after the fact? Would informing an employer that you have depression prevent them from firing you if you were finding it difficult to focus or concentrate?

I have not disclosed this to my employer and do not include that information when I apply for new jobs. And I don’t disclose because I don’t want the stigma of a disease that no one can see attached to me. If I did disclose after being hired, how would I go about doing that?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. Clorinda*

    What’s the benefit of disclosing? Is there some concrete thing you might expect to gain from it–some accommodation that might make your work life easier–or are you thinking about being part of a general destigmatization movement?

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      See OP’s key question: “Would informing an employer that you have depression prevent them from firing you if you were finding it difficult to focus or concentrate?”

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        Yeah, I see where OP’s coming from. I’d still strongly advise her not to disclose it if she can at all help it.

        OP, my husband has issues with anxiety and depression since childhood, and initially he’d tel his boss exactly so they’d have some context for when he had bad days. We’ve learned that the moment he discloses it at work, people’s behavior toward him changes, one way or the other. The most extreme example was the toxic boss who tried to get him fired over and over because she wanted all her team to be “normal” (said to his face in a meeting about her overt discriminatory behavior, with HR present. She wasn’t the brightest bulb).

        But even the more human bosses/coworkers “tried to help” by passing him over for all the bigger, more stressful projects, for extra training, conferences, anything that might upset his routine. I truly believe this was done aiming to help him, most of these were good and misguided people. But that was still discriminatory, and it hurt his early carreer a lot, in a way we still feel years later.

        1. The OP*

          OP here. This is why I’ve never said anything. It seems like an excuse to pass over people for a promotion or worse, fire them. This all became worse during COVID, when there were days when some days just seemed even more difficult to work. In November, two people I know under age 40 died (not related to COVID), and I was in a funk. I’ve also been looking for jobs and see depression listed as a disability, which made me wonder if I should disclose. I don’t need an accommodation for it, and I’m glad Alison framed her answer that way. I’m not going to say a peep to anyone at work.

          1. lailaaaaah*

            I literally had a manager try to fire me for not disclosing that I had ADHD on my application form when I asked for accommodations because ‘it suggests that you are fundamentally untrustworthy’. I had to print out the page of the relevant legislation that said that I was not required to disclose my diagnosis to keep from being sent packing, but even after that, it hung over my head until I quit. My bosses never treated me the same, and would ascribe almost any issue on the team to my neurodivergency (rather than, say, a coworker who wasn’t pulling his weight, or a process that needed streamlining).

            If you need accommodations, speak to your manager/HR rep about the accommodation/s you need specifically. Only disclose medical info when it is absolutely necessary (though if they ask for proof, consider checking local legislation to see if that is actually required for them to do it). I would suggest potentially looking for ways to take a few days off just as standard personal leave- that’s helped me a lot during depressive episodes in the past.

            Also, NEVER disclose a disability during the hiring process. Wait until you are definitively hired, and the employer would be entering a minefield of disability legislation if they tried pulling the offer.

            1. PersephoneUnderground*

              This- you can get plenty of informal accomodations from an employer if you approach them as if they’re no different from the work needs of a neurotypical person. For example, Covid stress is something everyone is getting right now, you can use that as your entire explanation for lower than usual productivity and maybe request flexibility around things like work hours. On the other end, if it becomes severe enough to need time off you can talk about it like a physical illness because it’s no different. You can take a sick day without ever disclosing in what way you’re sick, and it’s 100% legitimate. Just because it’s your brain that’s unwell doesn’t mean you’re not sick, and just like a physical illness (plenty of those are quite private too), your manager doesn’t need to know the details. “Nothing life-threatening/serious” covers any natural concerned questions pretty well (I know it can actually be serious, but I think that’s mostly accepted code for “I’m not dying of cancer or similar”).

              Hang in there! I have ADHD and depression and have gotten plenty of flexibility in my workplace without ever disclosing, even though I’m pretty sure my workplace be supportive I don’t want to open that door to even subconscious bias. So it’s possible to get what you need without taking that risk.

          2. Clorinda*

            Well, you know your situation best, OP. It stinks that our society isn’t yet a place where you can disclose a mental or emotional need in the same way as a physical one. I hope you’re getting all the support you need outside of work!

          3. Joan Rivers*

            Smart conclusion, OP.
            People can be way too open at work about personal issues, esp. health. Childbearing issues, mental health problems, you name it.
            We may spend a lot more time actually talking or interacting w/coworkers than we do w/family.
            It can be a false familiarity. Because family won’t suddenly get marched out of the building for breaking the rules — it’s a committed relationship. Coworkers are conditional.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              If you feel the need to confide for support, there are support groups. A group can be helpful because you all share a similar problem. It gives perspective as well as a place to speak freely. And people can share info., like feedback on meds, other referrals.

          4. PersephoneUnderground*

            Those forms asking about it on applications are for the EEOC hiring records I think. If you’re uncomfortable I’d just put no- you specifically don’t have to disclose on those forms for accomodation later. Like the racial data collected, the hiring manager should never see the information, but I understand not being sure if you trust them to keep it as confidential as it should be.

  2. Grace*

    I have had severe anxiety since I was 4. I have been mostly functional the last 10 years, which includes 5 years at my current profession. However a sudden traumatic health issue turned into a phobia. Then COVID hit and the anxiety became so severe I had daily panic attacks, cried myself to sleep at night, was unable to leave the house or be around another person (for health fears). After taking medical leave and working in therapy I was ready to attempt to return to work. I was honest with my boss about what I was going through and asked for accommodations (like not having to treat COVID+ patients). I was prepared to quit if I wasn’t given the accommodations, though, so that may be different than many people’s circumstances and it emboldened me to be more direct about what I needed to successfully return. However my manager has gone above and beyond and treated me with more compassion that I’m used to. She agreed to every single request and has been so understanding as I continue to struggle. Just wanted to share a positive mental health disclosure experience.

    1. halfmanhalfshark*

      I had a similarly positive experience. COVID exacerbated my existing and generally well-managed anxiety/depression and I basically lost all executive functioning. I took leave from my high-stress, high-demand job and stabilized with med changes and increased therapy. My bosses let me come back in a less demanding role and have been extremely empathetic about increased appointments, flexible schedules, and I even got an extremely kind email from one boss telling me how they value my contributions to the team and were glad I was still there (boy did that one make me cry). This is in an industry notorious for expecting people to work long hours under crushing stress without complaint.

    2. A*

      I’m so glad to hear your employer has been accommodating! Especially in the medical field, someone HAS to take on the non-COVID work to free up the time of those focus on the pandemic – it’s a crucial cog in the wheel and I’m so glad they were able to see that. Best wishes!

    3. JSPA*

      The common thread here seems to be, if there’s a dramatic flair-up that’s a) being addressed and b) was triggered by something everyone can understand might be triggering, the presumption is that you’re at heart “the [excellent] employee you were before,” except having a health crisis.

      That’s quite different, perceptually, from, “it’s low level, chronic, there’s no particular plan to address it further, I’m constantly at the edge of having bad days” which people interpret as, “I’m at best the employee you see now, don’t expect me to always function quite at this level, stress me further only at our mutual peril, and I don’t have any strategy beyond holding on by my fingernails.” That shouldn’t get you fired. But people, in the absence of data, extrapolate from their own feelings and experiences. If you’re feeling overloaded due to depression, people equate that to whatever makes them feel stressed and overloaded. And that in turn makes them less likely to pick you out for any additional task that they consider added stress (which is to say, most extra tasks), unless you’re extremely proactive about explaining what sorts of extras are not the problem, are not intrinsically stressful for you, and in fact, can be helpful.

      Letting people know what’s been actively helpful not only in the sense of accommodations, but in terms of any work challenges that actually lift your mood or functioning (rather than overloading you) is thus extremely helpful–if there’s any such thing.

      “I do nevertheless feel a real surge of joy when I get the final layer of the ads composed” or “the new database work is oddly soothing, you likely don’t hear this much, but I wouldn’t mind doing more of it” are ways to point out, “I’m absolutely value added to the business, even though I can’t currently bear to comb my hair, come into the office, or face clients.”

      If you’re open about a treatment plan or goal, people buy in better (and join you in hoping for an improved outcome) than if you’re at a steady-state level of misery, and not seeking further intervention. They can’t require it, of course. They shouldn’t see you differently or treat you worse if (say) after years of tinkering, you’ve found your current best answer, than they would at the start of the tinkering process. But it’s very hard to regulate or require intangibles like “shared hope for a better future.”

      At which point, it comes down to whether the core functions of either your current position or some other position are something you can adequately meet, with accommodation.

      A good employer will try to find or even carve out a new position or re-assign duties to keep an employee who brings dedication and value to the business “as they are,” or allow time for healing if there’s any expectation that they’ll thereby improve to where that’s the case. If that accommodation doesn’t exist, or that role doesn’t exist, and there’s no framework for talking about eventual improvement, the employer’s as stuck as the employee.

  3. Justin*

    I had to do it in a desperate scenario. I had some trouble at work, built myself back up, then admitted part of why I’d been struggling. It hasn’t harmed me, but I wanted it to be said.

    I did NOT say that the flare up occurred over the summer because my job upsets me, though, so…

  4. Louise*

    When I was younger I tried to “lead by example” with destigmatizing mental illness by openly talking about mine (which is a less “accepted” mental illness than anxiety or depression). Pushing 30, I’m now significantly more tight-lipped about it — mostly because I don’t think people with mental illnesses should have to perform sickness/wellness to be respected, and because solid boundaries are actually essential to managing my mental health. I think there are better ways to advocate for mental illness awareness/destigmatizing that don’t involve mentally ill folks putting themselves further at risk.

    1. LTL*

      If this isn’t too off topic, would you mind sharing some of those better ways to advocate?

      I want to advocate for destigmatization in a community that is still quite ignorant on mental health, but I’ve been in a bind on how to do that without leaning on my own experiences (which would have negative consequences).

      1. Louise*

        I think in the workplace specifically, advocating for health coverage that includes mental health, if you’re in a team leadership position encourage your team to take their mental health seriously and to take days off when they need do, speaking up when you see something potentially discriminatory and explaining why it can be harmful. There are also so many misconceptions that people spout off and shutting those down can be super helpful (some common ones I can think of are “you can’t have an eating disorder unless you’re skinny,” “people with schizophrenia are inherently dangerous,” “people who have depression just need to try yoga”).

        I personally think that focussing on the tactical (what changes can we make to materially improve the lives of those who struggle with mental illness) will enact a cultural shift faster than just those of us who are sick simply telling our stories. Different strokes though, like I think it all has its place and purpose. For me claiming some privacy has been a big part of healing — for others, sharing their journey can provide the same.

    2. WFHGal*

      I agree. I have very solid boundaries with my job — most namely, I didn’t put any work-related apps or email on my phone. I check my email and work from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and in the rare event of a true emergency, my boss can text me.

      I haven’t been very open with my coworkers about my mental illness — if something comes up, I say I have a chronic health condition that requires a specialist. I ended up in the hospital about two years ago and had to take a month off work, and my coworkers seriously thought something life-threatening had happened to me, and it was hard not being able to talk about what I’d been through. I imagine that many people were gossiping behind my back, especially since nothing obvious looked wrong with me.

      The hardest part is seeing how different it is for people with physical conditions. My coworker was in a car accident and shared a lot of the details of her experience and got a lot of support from my coworkers. Not fair, but I recognized that I made a conscious decision to keep my condition private. I think if my coworkers found out I had a mental illness, they would be totally shocked.

    3. anon today*

      When I was younger, I was (mis)diagnosed with a serious mental illness. I was assigned to the lead therapist in my campus health plan’s group, and she said she REQUIRED her patients to self-disclose to everyone as part of the treatment process. Because I’m actually autistic, not [other diagnosis], it didn’t occur to me I could just lie to her and say I was self-disclosing in my personal life while being discreet.

      My academic department basically pushed me out because of the stigma, instead of giving me accommodations so I could handle the workload despite the horrible side effects of the medications. Classmates who didn’t know me well backed off and didn’t want to be friends. I was behaving erratically enough from the side effects (I was incoherent, slurred my speech, couldn’t drive safely, couldn’t remember what day it was, etc.) that I lost a lot of friends from my established group outside school.

      The diagnosis is still all over my medical records and any new doctor tries to coerce me into going back onto the meds, even though it’s documented that the diagnosis was mistaken (because I misunderstood the screening questions) and my new diagnosis is Autism Spectrum Disorder, for which the meds would be inappropriate.

      Disclosure for the sake of disclosure is not a good idea. I like what other commenters have said about disclosing if you need to request specific accommodations, and having a plan laid out. People don’t know what to do when someone just randomly says “I have a mental health disability” and may base their reactions on stereotypes or on that uncle of theirs who had the same disability and is now living in a tent on Skid Row because he didn’t have the resources to manage it.

  5. TAE*

    Sort of related — what about if you are having a hard time performing your best in light of the events of this past year?

    I started a new job at the beginning of 2020 and am worried about my performance being criticized at an upcoming one-year evaluation. It’s hard to say for certain, because it is a new role, but I do feel like dealing with all the craziness and sadness in the country/world in my first year at this job has impacted my ability to work at 100%. I hesitate to say something at my review, because I do not want to make it seem like I am making excuses, but between switching to remote work and generally always trying to have a good attitude, I worry my boss does not understand how hard this year has been for me and that I am capable of doing better under more normal circumstances.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      I wouldn’t bring up that I’m not performing at 100% if the boss doesn’t mention any performance problems. Good bosses know most people are struggling now. You can ask the boss how she thinks your work performance is going and if there are areas she wants you to concentrate on. If the boss specifically asks how I feel about my performance I would say “This has been a tough year with everything going on in the world. I’m looking forward to the new year and everything settling down.” If there was a specific problem at work this year I would acknowledge with “I should have started on the June TPS report earlier so it would be ready on time, I changed my work priorities and it hasn’t been late the last 6 months.”

      1. Cat Tree*

        I agree. Everyone is struggling right now, including managers. I’ve been a top performer in previous years but this year I want living up to my own standards. I was dreading my mid-year feedback, but I only got positive feedback. At first I was surprised because I was dwelling on all the things I wanted to accomplish but didn’t. But when I thought more about it, I realized that I did a good job of prioritizing, so no deadlines were missed and all the most important stuff got done. All the stuff that got pushed to the back burner would have been nice to have, but it doesn’t prevent us from meeting business goals and can be done in the next year or two instead. Sometimes you just have to be realistic about what you can accomplish during a crisis.

    2. Reba*

      If you have the opportunity to offer self-assessment, I think preferably as part of a conversation, I definitely think you can talk about this without harming your reputation or “making excuses.” Like, you can say something like “Because of the stress and disruptions this year, I don’t feel like I’ve always done what I would be capable of in normal times. I’m happy with the way I handled X, but I think that over the coming months I will work at being be better with Y. Since I’m new in the role, I can’t compare my performance to past years, but that’s how I would assess my progress.”

      That being said, don’t beat yourself up or denigrate your own performance unfairly or too severely! That’s why I wrote it as an area for growth rather than “I totally dropped the ball here and am terrible.” Remember that there would be a learning curve in any new job in any year.

      This isn’t “disclosing” anything; it doesn’t even have to use the words “mental health”! Everybody has been stressed in some way by the past year’s events. In a way it would be odd not to talk about how the pandemic affected you/your work! I can definitely understand your trepidation approaching this topic, and I don’t think you are simply overthinking it. And you may not feel you know your manager well enough to know how this conversation might go.* I hope the review goes well and that you are able to have a conversation with professional-level candor!

      *It sounds like you are not having regular check-ins, where you could get a sense of your progress? Ideally you would not be going into the review feeling like you’re in the dark about your manager’s opinion. So maybe they would be open to checking in more frequently?

    3. Sparrow*

      Do you have a sense of what your boss thinks about your work? I’ve been in this position before (pre-covid, thanks to depression woo) and my new boss was very pleased with my work/transition into the organization and gave me glowing feedback. *I* knew I was not performing to the best of my ability, but she did not because she had never seen me at my best. I didn’t see any reason to tell her that, especially since I knew I wasn’t yet in a place where I had the depression under control and wouldn’t suddenly be able to flip a switch. She was happy with me, gave me an exceptional first year review, and got to be pleasantly surprised when I eventually got more control of my depression and started performing at an even higher level.

      Of course, then covid happened, my depression hit rock bottom and things are…bleak, to put it mildly. I’m definitely not doing my best work, but I’m still exceeding my boss’ standards, even if I’m not meeting my own. If my mental health starts impeding my ability to surpass her expectations, or if I get to the point I need to take a longer period off, I’ll disclose, but until then I’m keeping the depression to myself.

      1. TAE*

        Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. We had a check-in a few months ago where an area of improvement was acknowledged by both of us. It is not something I used to struggle with, and I have been trying to improve, but I feel like my brain can’t focus like it used to. I will use your suggestions to come up with a way to address that this feels situational and out of the norm for me, if it is raised again. Thank you again.

        1. Koikoi*

          Going through the same thing. Very hard to be objective about my performance especially because we have no idea if we will be back to 100% as soon as things are back to normal, or if this is an ongoing trauma that will take a bit more time to resolve (when will we feel sharp and focused again? What about how our priorities have fundamentally changed due to 2020?). Bosses can’t really help untangle this nor should they–it’s a stressful year for everyone, here is how I’ve dealt with it and what I’ve accomplished, is how I’m saying it.

  6. staceyizme*

    Generally speaking, it’s better to keep personal information such as health, finances, friendships and love life out of the equation at work. Once you lose custody of your personal information, you lose control of the narrative and others may not be as enlightened or understanding as you believe that they will be. Also- almost anything that you might need that falls short of a regularly needed accommodation (such as access to a wheelchair, ergonomic keyboard, sensory adaptive work environment or extra time for certain tasks due to dyslexia or memory issues) is something that can be gotten without the need for this discussion. At some point in their careers, most people are faced with less margin than they need. Health, finances, relationships and professional environments are all vulnerable to situations that need attention. If it’s not a regularly occurring need that you require the cooperation of your employer to obtain, then, no, it’s probably not beneficial or necessary to disclose. I do agree with Alison’s thoughts that it would be a much better world if these conversations didn’t produce negative reactions. But from Autism to depression to almost any other physical, psychological or neurological difference, we still seem to routinely come up short in our ability to be generous in the workplace.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I think in general that whether it’s a social or a work meeting you don’t start by throwing everything on the table just because it’s a big thing to you; you get to know people to see how they handle sensitive topics and other people’s emotions, and intimacies gradually get shared. Without an actionable element there’s no reason to change that practice in a workplace.

    2. Cloak of Anonymity*

      “lose custody of your personal information” is a very accurate framing in my experience. You can’t untell people; they can’t unknow. And however right-on or knowledgable they are, that knowledge will still colour their interactions with you – whether as unconscious bias or conscious desire to accommodate.

      Alison wrote: “But know that you never need to disclose a health condition if you don’t want to. And if there’s nothing specific you want to ask for, in most cases the safer option is hold off until/unless that changes. I’m sorry that’s the case, and I hope one day it won’t be something people need to worry about.” Nail on head.

      Sincerely,

      regular poster hiding under the anonymity cloak for this, because, well, yunno

      1. PT*

        “lose custody of your personal information” agreed.

        And I’ve seen the way the office rumor mill goes, it often is much more of a reflection of the person starting the rumor than it is the person who is the subject of the rumor. So even something benign can get twisted, in the hands of the wrong person. (I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a GI bug making its rounds through the building turn into accusations of pregnancy or a drinking problem stuck to one person, even though 15 people got the same bug.)

    3. The OP*

      OP here, “lose custody of your personal information;” that’s a smart way to frame things.

  7. Kimmy Schmidt*

    “Would informing an employer that you have depression prevent them from firing you if you were finding it difficult to focus or concentrate?”

    Employers can still fire you under these circumstances, right? How do ADA accommodations play into this aspect, if at all?

    1. Littorally*

      If staying concentrated on work represents a bona-fide occupational qualification — in other words, if it is necessary to complete your work — then yes, an employer could still fire for it. The ADA doesn’t require employers to keep employees on when they aren’t able to complete their job duties with reasonable accommodations.

      1. anon today*

        Alison recommended consulting the Job Accommodation Network, which is an excellent idea. They would have suggestions for compensatory strategies the employee can use and maybe get support from the supervisor. For example, if someone now needs instructions structured a particular way to follow them accurately, or a checklist to catch common errors in a report.

  8. The Happy Graduate*

    From experience, it would only really make sense to disclose it if it’s actually impacting your productivity/ability to perform work, otherwise it opens the door to negative reactions unnecessarily. I knew someone who, after a few months of starting a new career and struggling to balance a new job and all the challenges that come with it while having some mental health problems, they disclosed to their boss that they are dealing with X because of Y and so they may need to adjust deadlines/output expectations at times because of it. Their boss was SO understanding and it actually completely changed their working relationship for the better once the boss knew what they were dealing with. While this scenario may not be the case for everyone, I think it shows that it’s best to only disclose if you need to, and if you do just keep it matter-of-fact with “this is what I am dealing with, as a result I need X accommodations. Is this possible?”

    1. Washi*

      I agree. I have both a thyroid condition and depression, currently well-managed, and while one is definitely more stigmatized than the other, I still would not tell anyone at work about the thyroid thing unless I were actively having issues and needed accommodations/understanding. Even then, I might just say that I was adjusting medication for a medical issue, because I like having good boundaries and don’t think my job necessarily needs to know which of my body parts is malfunctioning!

  9. Just another lurker*

    I once shared my mother’s mental illness at work; she had untreated depression and anxiety and was becoming non-functional bc of it. I had to step in to try to help her get back on her feet. I have mild depression and anxiety but did not share that. Short version of the story is that I left the job six months later and will never do that again. My colleagues were kind and supportive. My boss used it against me in a targeted bullying campaign. It wasn’t the only reason I left, but it was a huge factor.

    1. Happy It Isn't Monday*

      I’m sorry to hear that & glad you are at a different place.

      Unfortunately, the “being used against someone” reaction is more on par for what I have seen.

  10. ManagerInNameOnly*

    Alison’s advice is spot on. I’m a registered nurse, but for now am working as an accounting manager in construction. No one else who works here (35 staff) has any medical training, and many of them have the usual misconceptions about mental health. Two of our staff openly spoke about taking medication for mental health diagnoses. They did not think there would be a down side to disclosure, and had no intention of asking for accomodations. This colored the owners’ perceptions of them, and they regretted being so open about their mental health. To be honest, they have had performance issues. But I believe these issues would have been handled more effectively by the owners had they not known about the mental health diagnoses.
    Examples
    Two employees have loud, shouty meltdowns. The one who disclosed their diagnosis is told they are too fragile for this job, and fired on the spot. The one who did not disclose, or maybe does not have a diagnosis is told to apologize and everyone moves on.
    Two employees have serious problems meeting the basic expectations of their job (absences, serious mistakes, length of learning curve, etc). The one who disclosed their diagnosis is demoted and viewed as addicted to anti anxiety medications. The one who did not disclose/does not have a diagnosis is given as many opportunities as they need to improve.

    I have simplified quite a bit here so that I don’t write a book, but I see this every day.

  11. CommanderBanana*

    I don’t see any reason to disclose unless you are asking for accommodations, and even then, I don’t see why you should need to get more specific other than saying you need an accommodation (a regular time off for therapy, for example) for a health-related reason. And I say this as someone with chronic depression who is usually pretty open about it.

    1. A First Rated Mess*

      My management knows I have regular medical appointments, but not that they’re with a therapist. They know “Chronic medical condition, not currently serious but requires regular appointments to make sure it stays that way.” I told them this in the context of being more proactive with my health after an injury. All totally true, all totally vague, and completely sufficient to get to my appointments with no fuss.

  12. Bend & Snap*

    I disclosed to my boss and it went fine–but I had a mini breakdown and needed to leave work immediately to get help and take some time off. He was wonderfully supportive, but not all bosses are.

    I would not disclose if you don’t have to.

  13. Are you me*

    Oof, this is a big mood right now. I’m having such a hard time concentrating or getting anything done at work because my brain is trapped under several layers of gray mush. And I have no motivation of course because that’s what depression does. Sit down at desk and depersonalize.

    I’ve been thinking of looking for a new job for almost a year— but I’m worried that the most recent surge of depression (as identified by my therapist) is making “running away and trying something new in case that’s magically better” sound better than it would be. Thoughts? Can a better work environment give you more motivation, or is it something intrinsic?

      1. 2 Cents*

        Yep, seconding this! I was majorly depressed after the birth of my first child and dreaded going back to my largely unsupportive office. I spent six months looking for a new job before landing somewhere new. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s definitely better, I screened for the stuff important to me, and I am so much happier (plus meds, regular therapy (I’m just not available at lunchtime on Tuesdays and my boss is cool with that), and new challenges).

    1. Not So NewReader*

      You have been thinking about a new job for a year?
      There must be a reason why you have held on to this thought for so long.
      Start looking around and seeing what is available. Baby step number 1.

      Picture a suitcase loaded with books. For whatever reason, you decide that this suitcase has to go through your day with you. And so you drag it up and down stairs, you pull it in and out of motor vehicles. You keep it right beside your bed and stub your toe when you have to get up in the middle of the night. You forego other things because you need a free hand to drag the suitcase with you. People close to you are beginning to ask, “What’s up with the suitcase?”
      Tired, yet? I am just thinking about this.
      This is what a bad job or even a not-so-great job can do to us. Actually other things in life can be a suitcase for us also.
      Collect up facts. What options are available to you this week?

  14. BuckeyeIT*

    I’ve reported my depression to my manager and had it go both ways. On the positive side- that manager worked with me when I needed accommodations to my schedule; when my depression flared so did my insomnia. I was able to ‘flex’ my start time on days when the insomnia was so bad that I wasn’t falling asleep until 5 or 6am ( with a start time of 10am and a 45min commute, that was NO BUENO!) as long as I let her know within a certain timeframe that I was going to come in late that day. On the not so positive side- that manager also didn’t promote me because she then felt that I was ‘too unreliable’. So…. it’s a toss up.

  15. Jaybeetee*

    My gut instinct would be not to disclose unless it’s affecting your work and/or you need accommodations. It’s not anything your boss “needs” to know.

    Caveat: If it’s more a case of just wanting to be able to talk about it at work and not treat it like a big secret, I’d assess the workplace, colleagues and boss and get a general idea of how the environment is. I work in an office (normally…) where people talk fairly casually about anxiety and such, but it’s also understood not to discuss the really gritty or heavy stuff – that’s not what your boss or colleagues are for. Conversations I can think of in that vein were more like quick mentions that went on for a sentence or two… not stuff that would lead to a ton of questions or discussion.

  16. LiteralGirl*

    I am someone who has had an amazing show of support from my higher-ups in my current position when I’ve disclosed depression/anxiety. The first year in my position, I did great – received an exceeds expectations review after six months, and was promoted to a senior position. The next year was more difficult; I had family issues that were affecting every aspect of my life including work. I couldn’t stay on track at work, and ended up being put on a PIP. However, my boss/grand boss asked what was going on prior to the PIP, and recommended that I request intermittent FMLA so there would be a documented reason for why I wasn’t able to fulfill all of the requirements of my job. The PIP was super specific, with clear goals that were reasonable. I achieved the goals and kept my job. After, I found it increasingly difficult to perform aspects of the job so I asked to go back to the position I had before being promoted. This was two and a half years ago, and I’ve never regretted it. I am able to be an asset to my teammates while not feeling overwhelmed and worthless. My immediate team knows why I stepped down from the senior role, and have been nothing but supportive – they don’t treat me any differently.

    This is my experience, and I do realize that not everyone is lucky enough to be in such a supportive environment.

  17. Sylvan*

    I wouldn’t disclose unless I were asking for accommodations.

    I’ve disclosed anxiety. It’s better to explain myself than not when I have a panic attack or get startled by dumb things, but it results in judgment I’d rather not receive. People don’t say anything outright about it, and they’re superficially supportive, but it affects their decisions IME.

    Most recently, I opened up about it to my manager this spring. I was put on a PIP the next workday. There were valid reasons, but I can’t help but be suspicious of the timing.

    1. Sylvan*

      Like Alison wrote: Having open conversations about mental health is a good thing, and we need more of them. There’s nothing shameful about depression or other mental-health issues, and stigmatizing them does real damage. But we’re talking here about the professional world as it actually is, not the one I wish we lived in, and the reality we have to deal with is that people are often still weird about mental health in a way they’re not about physical health.

  18. learnedthehardway*

    Reiterating all the advice to keep it to yourself unless you need specific accommodations or your situation actually affects your job performance. Keep in mind that you can’t control how people will react or whether they will share your diagnosis with others.

  19. Drew*

    OP – thank you for asking this! I was wrestling with the same dilemma earlier today. Perfect timing.

    1. The OP*

      OP here. I also thought a lot of people might be in the same situation. I really appreciate the advice Alison gave.

  20. Salad Daisy*

    Don’t do it. Don’t ever disclose anything that may impact you negatively, not health related, not finance related, not related to your personal life. When it comes time for raises or promotions, you don’t want you manager to say, “We don’t want to promote Suzy because she is depressed/has a health condition/is in a turbulent relationship/has money troublte” and so forth. Unless you need accomodations, keep this information to yourself.

  21. Elizabeth*

    This is a very personal decision and not a one size fits all answer so do what seems best for you. I’d just like to share my experience.
    I have found that disclosing my mental illness is a big component of managing my mental illness. I deal with anxiety/depression, take regular medication, and have recently started regular therapy (yay!). I have found that being open with my struggles actually helps manage my anxiety because I can go into an anxiety spiral worrying if people are noticing I’m struggling, thinking I’m incompetent, etc. I’m lucky to have a good relationship with managers and team leads where I feel comfortable doing this. There are definitely some co-workers whom I would not share details with. So far it’s been well received, and I don’t think I’ve had any negative effects from it (although its possible it has held me back in an invisible way). There is at least one instance where I know that sharing has lead to extra leniency and help when going through a particularly rough patch.
    Basically, I’ve decided the risk of any negative blowback is worth the positive outcomes on my mental health. But do what feels right for you :)

    1. OwlEditor*

      Agreed! I have anxiety and depression too! I had to disclose to my manager and she was very understanding. That turned out to be a great thing because one day I had a breakdown after changing meds and ended up crying in front of her during our 1:1. She never let if affect our work relationship. But I noticed that my current company had great resources in place already! I think that’s a key part of it. If the org has the support structures in place, then it reflects in the management.

  22. Valentine Wiggin*

    How timely. I just went through a severe mental illness episode last week. However, my medical team also had to rule out other physiological diagnoses during it, which required lots of time for appointments, hospital stuff, therapies, etc. I told my boss that it was a health issue that we’re trying to resolve (true)! But now they’re asking for (well meaning) updates. I wasn’t sure if I should disclose that it was mental health (meaning, good news, nothing is ‘physically’ wrong with me like we thought). Or if I should give something vague. After reading Allison’s response, I’m going with vague. “The doctors got it all resolved, but I don’t want to go too much further into that. Thanks for your concern!”

  23. employment lawyah*

    Does it ever make sense to let an employer know that you suffer from depression?
    yes, though not often. Two (non-exhaustive list!) examples of times when I see it include

    -It is a qualifying disability for which you require, or anticipate requiring an accommodation; and your employer is a covered employer–not everything is qualifying and not all employers are included, though, FYI.

    -you anticipate being disciplined/fired and want extra protection.

    Would an employer think less of you, or perhaps not hire you because you suffer from depression, even if it is protected by the law?
    Yes, sometimes. Nowadays it’s perhaps less likely but still happens. It’s much more common in hiring, which is no surprise: Some economic costs of your illness may transfer to the employer, & many employers will try to avoid those costs when hiring. I would never ever bring it up in the hiring process.

    Would informing an employer that you have depression prevent them from firing you if you were finding it difficult to focus or concentrate?
    Sometimes yes. If you think you’re getting there, TALK TO A LAWYER IN ADVANCE!!!!

    1. Lyudie*

      “you anticipate being disciplined/fired and want extra protection.”

      Can you talk a bit about what you mean with this? Would the disclosure provide some legal protection, or just that offering an explanation (assuming they don’t decide it’s an excuse instead) might make the employer more likely to work with the depressed employee rather than go down the firing path?

      1. employment lawyah*

        It’s a bit underhanded, but:

        It is easier to fire someone who is not in any protected classes. If you disclose protected-class membership to an employer and they promptly fire you, they risk a discrimination claim. “I was not on an improvement plan; I said I had a medical issue, and the next day I was out of a job” is a compelling story.

        Sure, they CAN still fire you, and can always submit evidence showing that they were going to fire you anyway… but that is not a simple task. It usually requires them to have documented things well in advance of your disclosure, which many places don’t do.

        1. anon today*

          If you decide to disclose because you know your performance/attendance has been affected and you want to document your status as a protected class, is it good to have some kind of plan or accommodation in mind? For example, if you’ve been written up for being late because of insomnia etc. is it better to say “I’d like an accommodation for flex time because diagnosis X has been affecting my sleep” than just “I have diagnosis X, that’s why I can’t get here on time”?

  24. Sled Dog Mama*

    I don’t suffer from depression but I do have migraines and I feel like the attitude some people take towards migraines and mental health can be similar.
    I have gotten a lot of oh it’s just a headache, you can come in just take some tylenol. Um no. I can’t just take tylenol, it doesn’t touch this pain, I can’t see straight, I start heaving every time I try to stand up and it feel like someone stabbed me in forehead with an ice pick.
    I did come in with the remnants of a migraine one day after taking my prescription abortive. Unfortunately for me while the prescription gets rid of the pain and visual symptoms it doesn’t help the nausea and I get dizzy pretty easily after taking it. So I’m still only marginally functional for the first few hours.
    Much like mental health issues disclosing has been both positive and negative. I once disclosed to a boss who was awesome and also had (much less severe) migraines, he did a lot to help me. I’ve also disclosed to bosses who look at me like “and you want me to do what with that info?” and there have been the occasional ones who persist in believing that it’s really bad headache even with a a letter from my doctor.
    The biggest thing I’ve learned reading AAM is that people are weird and an awful lot more of them than I would have guessed don’t want to believe their fellow human beings.

    1. Adultiest Adult*

      Just wanted to chime in with some solidarity about the migraines, weighing whether or not to disclose (current boss is great about it), and particularly the effects of the medications used to treat them. Have definitely gotten migraines at work and had to struggle through the aftereffects and the dizziness if I decided to stay and work through. I am not a doctor but just wanted to say, after years of just dealing with the nausea along with everything else, one of my newer docs gave me a specific prescription for the nausea and strongly encouraged me to take it, along with the traditional migraine medicine. I was a bit skeptical but do find the combination has helped me. Perhaps you could check and see if your doctor might recommend the same?

  25. Aggretsuko*

    This is probably going to entirely depend on your manager. Some folks have good stories here, some do not. You’re probably better not disclosing unless you are forced to because you just don’t know how it is going to go, and you can’t take that information back once you do if it goes poorly.

    I ended up disclosing after (long after) I stopped sobbing multiple times a day and was pretty sure I wasn’t going to do it any more. I don’t know if I should have done it or not, but after nine months of refusing to be seen and being asked why not, well…. I felt like I had to explain why. I didn’t think it was a good idea to disclose At The Time, at least. And I haven’t used the words like “depression” or anything concrete either.

  26. Veryanon*

    It’s all too true that even with the legal protections out there, it really depends on the manager and how empathetic they are. Years ago, when my son was a little guy, he was having a lot of issues with asthma and chronic ear infections. The asthma especially was very worrisome and we were having issues getting it under control. On the advice of our pediatrician, I went to my manager (who was the HR Director!) and asked to take off a couple of weeks of FMLA leave (to which I was legally entitled) so I could keep him at home until his condition stabilized with the new medication. She very begrudgingly allowed me to take the time off, but I found out later that she was actively recruiting to replace me (to the point of posting my job and interviewing candidates) because she didn’t think I’d be back. I had never, at any point, told her that I wouldn’t be returning. I have to say that I didn’t feel too badly when she was fired shortly after I returned.
    More recently, I went through some pretty serious mental health issues with my teenage daughter last February, to the point where she required partial hospitalization. I shared with my manager the basics of what was going on, and what I would need in terms of short-term schedule flexibility. My manager couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating.
    It’s a shame that 30 years after the passage of the ADA and 27 years after the passage of the FMLA, so much still depends on how accommodating a manager is in these situations.

  27. Hey*

    Telling my boss about what I was going through may have saved my life. He was super understanding. Thats not the norm, but he was genuinely so helpful in getting me through it. Sometimes people really surprise you.

  28. Ground Control*

    I occasionally mention having OCD at work because 1) I’ve managed it very well with meds for over a decade so it doesn’t negatively affect my work, 2) I’m secure enough in my medical-related career that I’m comfortable doing what I can to destigmatize mental illness, and 3) there are so many misconceptions about what OCD is that I can’t stop myself from clarifying that IT’S NOT JUST EXCESSIVE HAND WASHING AND FEAR OF GERMS. But I absolutely don’t think people should have to disclose this info, and it can definitely hurt (which is why I’m so passionate about #2).

  29. BoneThugg*

    15 years ago I was in an elite PhD program for a scientific discipline at a very well-known university. I disclosed to my graduate advisor that I was in treatment for depression and anxiety. He seemed supportive at first. But a week later he dragged me into his office and demanded to know if I was on medication that impacted my cognitive ability. (I was not.) A week after that he gave me the first negative performance review of my career. Six months later he kicked me out of the program after slowly parceling out my projects to other students.

    I repeatedly tried to discuss the issue with department management but they were completely unwilling to listen to me. I was unable to find a job in my field and spent years working permatemp jobs. Things are better now, but disclosing my problem to someone I thought I could trust is the single biggest regret of my adult life.

    After that experience, I do not discuss my ongoing treatment with anyone but my health providers and my partner. I am fortunate that I am able to pass as normal but it took a lot of work to get there. Later I learned that my advisor repeatedly tried to discuss my treatment with my psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was also a professor at the university and they were part of the same social circle. My advisor felt that it reflected negatively on him that one of his students had to seek help for a mental health crisis.

    1. AGD*

      Academic here. I’m so sorry to hear about this – I’ve certainly seen this sort of malicious cluelessness. I think things are changing, but it’s taking a while, and the stigma is much sharper for people who grew up in earlier decades. Your advisor wronged you badly.

      1. Caradom*

        Academic here. I never revealed I have Bipolar Disorder. We know about the bias so I would never give them the opportunity to engage in the bias.

  30. AnotherSarah*

    I think the destigmatization part is so important, though I’d also add that even for a non-mental health condition, I wouldn’t necessarily disclose it in an official way (that is, as something to get on the record, not just something mentioned) if you don’t have a need for an accommodation. I have slight hearing loss, for example–I’m not a candidate for a hearing aid and it only occasionally affects me. I wouldn’t benefit from my employer knowing this, and I can picture people yelling unnecessarily….

  31. Jessie J*

    There’s no way I’d share medical information with my employer unless needing to work through a medical issue and need support or time off. Even then I would be careful about why. Example for my personal take is that I may share a dental emergency but not one about having specific health tests done. But this is just me and what I would and would not inform. I’d be very careful about sharing any mental health information though.

  32. Anon for this*

    I disclosed depression issues once and I regret it.

    I was having a particularly hard time and it was affecting my performance at work. I was generally a high-performer, and my boss and I had a great relationship, so I wanted to explain why I had been “off” lately. I thought about all the same points you brought up in your letter, but felt like it would affect my reputation at work if I didn’t explain the context for my less-than-stellar performance. My boss was great, sympathetic and cut me some slack while I worked things out over a period of weeks and got myself back up to my previous level (fairly quickly).

    However… it did affect how she saw me and cost me opportunities down the road. I had been in line for promotion and that never materialized. Higher-pressure projects stopped being assigned to me. When she would ask “how are you?” her tone had changed from ‘simple pleasantry’ to ‘is there something to be concerned about?’ It was all pretty subtle, but putting the pieces together, I think my disclosure is what changed things. In hindsight, I wish I had made up something about family problems or a bad breakup or some other personal situation I could have played off as difficult but very temporary to explain what was going on with me at that time.

    Wishing you the best OP!

    1. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      This happened to me, too. Once my boss knew, it colored her whole impression of me (something I had not anticipated at all before I told her). She’d ask, “How are you?” I’d say, “Fine! How are are you?” and she say, “No, how ARRRE you . . . ??” with this frowny, faux-concerned voice. If I said, “Fine, I’m doing fine,” she’d frown like she didn’t believe me. In meetings, she’d interrupt to say things like, “I can tell by your face you’re upset – what’s wrong??” when I was actually just listening and thinking about the meeting we were in. If I wore make-up one day, she’d say, “Oh! You look so healthy today! How are you FEELING??” It got much worse.

      UGH. Ugh. ugh. ugh. Never again.

    2. Jane*

      Yup. Happening now, minus the sympathy.

      The tone in our weekly team check-ins changes dramatically when he gets to me, and he doesn’t assign me work. I’ve had enough other channels to keep afloat so far, but if I intended to stay in this job I’d definitely need to figure out how to change managers.

  33. Jessica Fletcher*

    Even if you need an accommodation, you might not have to disclose your specific medical condition. For example, in the past I needed to leave early from work one day every week to go to a mental health treatment program. My social worker wrote a generic letter stating that I was undergoing a course of treatment and needed to leave at X time on X day to get to the facility. The letterhead was generic company letterhead, not saying that it was for mental health, and googling the social worker didn’t tell you which department she worked in. I got to leave early, and I never had to disclose any info about my diagnosis. (Which was extremely important to me because it was a horribly dysfunctional workplace.)

    I recommend to never, EVER disclose a mental health issue except as a last resort.

    1. Jessica Fletcher*

      Wanted to add: Even though I’m at a new, better employer, I still will never disclose. I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d be forced to. Even if I was in the hospital, I would be as generic as possible. I set this precedent from the start, by never giving details if I need to call off or take time off for an appointment. The most I would say is that I have a medical appointment, which is accurate!

      If it came down to it, I would trust my director with some slightly less generic info. But I would never trust my immediate manager. He talks about other people’s medical issues and has made some ridiculous statements about mental health. Nope nope nope.

    2. Caradom*

      It depends, I have a flexible job so they never know I’m in an appointment (Although I only see the consultant 2x a year).

  34. MidwesternEditor*

    I’m a manager. Just to offer my thoughts from that particular perspective – I would not disclose this (as others have rightly said). From the vantage point of my role as manager, I don’t *want* to know health information (mental or otherwise) about my employees, or other intensely personal information, for that matter. Of course there are personal things we share at work that help us create a congenial, trusting atmosphere – and yes, I am friendly and warm with my employees! But it’s also really important to me to maintain those important boundaries. I had a young employee disclose her mental health issues to me once, just because she “wanted” to (not because they were affecting her performance or because she needed accommodation – I wouldn’t have known/noticed had she not brought it up), and it was uncomfortable. I felt like she wanted me to be a little bit of a therapist, which, again, is boundary-crossing in a way that (at least for me) wasn’t appropriate for our relationship. Reading all of that back, I realize that might make me sound a little callous, and that’s not my intent at all. I hope this perspective makes sense!

    1. Caradom*

      If you are her manager your discomfort needs to be addressed if you are (in part) responsible for their wellbeing at work. I don’t think it is at all callous, we’re not therapists. But if you are responsible as a person to report to then the work angle needs sorting.

  35. ThoughtsToday*

    I have a really wonderful manager that I was able to disclose autism to and get accommodations like going to a private space (I normally work in an open office space) when I’m sensory-overloaded. But it was handled pretty badly when I look back on it. I disclosed because I thought it would beneficial to understanding some coworker dynamic issues I was having, but then I suddenly the in-unit admin was involved to officially get the disability noted and accommodations in motion, and no doubt my grandboss was told, and I really would have liked for it to be extremely limited who knew. I like the “go to HR first” idea because regular managers just don’t know what to do with this info!

    I was naive at the time and luckily it worked out, but I plan to be more cautious in the future. Though I do debate with myself about disclosure upon offer or waiting a while.

    1. ThoughtsToday*

      Also: Not sure if anyone else reading this is autistic, but man whenever I see those employment rate statistics for autistic folks it scares the crap out of me. It’s so bad for us and makes me want to hide more. I applaud people who can be “out” but I don’t trust my coworkers enough.

  36. Red 5*

    I was at one point in the past misdiagnosed with depression (turns out I have a sleep disorder, who would have thought there’d be something medically wrong with a young woman who was tired all the time?) It took about ten years before I was comfortable enough to declare that he had been wrong the entire time, and so there were a lot of jobs where I was either on an anti-depressant, in counseling, both, or just still dealing with the symptoms that led to the diagnosis.

    I tried both being open and hiding it. For the most part, not disclosing was the better choice. Part of this is because of the types of jobs I had during that time period (mostly retail) but I tried the whole “I’m not ashamed we need to talk about mental health more often” thing and it really backfired more than once. I learned that you can do that, but you need to REALLY know who you’re talking to and how it’s going to change or not change your circumstances. I had coworkers who used it against me, I had bosses who treated me completely differently, etc.

    I can only think of one situation in that span of time where disclosing the issue might have changed things but I think that in the end, I still would have lost that job and parted on bad terms because I don’t think they would have been accommodating. It just would have been more underhanded so that they didn’t get in trouble.

    All that said, the job I have now I actually would be comfortable. I’ve talked to them about my sleep disorder (it was diagnosed right after I got the job) and they handled it wonderfully. I’ve mentioned off hand that I deal with anxiety or that I’ve been in therapy, or even that I’ve been on medication, and they haven’t blinked. Other coworkers have talked about their own situations, and there’s clearly no stigma or issue around it in my own department. But I do know for a fact that there are other departments in the same company where bosses have retaliated and discriminated in ways that honestly are probably illegal. You have to judge every individual situation every single time, and it can change even within the same company if a new coworker or boss comes in…It’s obnoxious and it’s wrong and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s added burden the people don’t deserve. But I’ve found the burden of telling someone who I shouldn’t have to be greater.

    *I should note that I don’t think that depression does not equal “something medically wrong” but I couldn’t come up with the right phrase to establish what I meant, which is that medical bias caused multiple doctors to basically decide I was being moody and to throw a pill at the problem rather than actually run any tests or talk to me longer than five minutes to find out that I wasn’t depressed. Obviously depression is also a medical condition and I would also qualify it as a physical illness, hence me not knowing how to differentiate.

  37. Sarra N. Dipity*

    Totally depends on the company/team/etc. 100%.

    I am bipolar, have ADHD, and have an anxiety disorder. Fun combo. Mostly managed well w/ medication, but can still cause some issues at work (specifically the ADHD part).

    I’ve chosen to ONLY disclose to my immediate manager, because we were peers at one point and are fairly close, and she always has ideas and is incredibly supportive.

    I made the mistake of talking to my director and their boss about my parenting-an-autistic-child-from-work struggles during this past year, and it backfired on me. Now the only people I talk about that with are peers and my immediate manager.

    In general, I work for what looks like an incredibly supportive and compassionate company, but when it comes down to it the support ends up being mainly for people at higher levels, and not us lowly individual contributors. They talk a great game at the CEO level but none of it trickles down.

  38. Argh!*

    You can’t un-ring that bell. If there needs to be an accommodation, let the ADA person in HR know, but nobody else. It’s amazing how many people are totally backward about these things. You don’t just risk them thinking worse of you. You also risk losing respect for them if they turn out to be a jerk about it. Working for a supervisor you don’t or can’t respect is definitely not good for someone who has depression!

  39. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    Don’t do it!

    I revealed my mental health needs to a boss who (at the time) I was on great terms with, in part because she had shared some similar personal info with me, and I fully believed we were on track to develop a close, supportive, mentor-type relationship. However, after I disagreed with her on some critical issues that she was not handling appropriately in our work group (racism and bullying), she began using my medical info to manipulate me emotionally, she gossiped about me and revealed (erroneously) the reason for my medical leave in an all-staff email, and she repeatedly set me up to fail (ex. regularly overworking me with promises of flex time, then denying my flex time and telling me I had poor time management, then when I eventually did take time off, punishing me when I returned). She eventually fired me in a particularly cruel way. It has taken me over a year to be “okay” again, and I’m still recovering from the emotional trauma of that whole experience.

    I will never, ever, ever reveal my medical specifics to an employer again. EVER. Unless I need a very specific accommodation, in which case it’ll be the least amount of info possible in order to get what I need to do my job.

    1. Anne*

      I strongly suspect my boss is talking behind my back as well.

      I’ve been taking intermittent FMLA for a combination of severe burnout (it was severe before the pandemic and is quite disabling now) and newly diagnosed ADHD while I get things back to a manageable point. My boss does not know the details.

      I’m planning to take full leave soon, as the intermittent leave has been enough to keep the burnout from getting worse but not enough to recover from it. I don’t intend to return to this job.

      Don’t disclose unless you need to.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      My immediate supervisor has disclosed a coworker’s medical information to me (information I already had, because coworker and I were friends and she had told me), but there was absolutely no reason for him to have disclosed that information to me. It made it very clear that I could not trust him to keep information confidential, so when I needed to take time off to deal with a health issue, I made sure to go up a level to someone I had reason to believe would be appropriately discreet (or at least didn’t care enough that he wouldn’t remember the substance of the conversation once it was over).

  40. Jane*

    I used the words “mental health” in a conversation with my boss in May 2020 – which I initiated. I approached him, said I was struggling with adapting to the pandemic, used those two words, said I was putting some things in place and expected thinks to improve soon.
    He had not noticed my performance slipping, so this was pretty preemptive.

    He’s been halfheartedly managing me out ever since. We largely ignore each other and my work comes from other directions – because he hasn’t passed me any since that conversation.

    If there is *any* time when there shouldn’t have been a stigma about unspecified *mental health* it was then.

    My conclusion: don’t share unless you need something specific and it’s worth leaving the job over.

  41. Karo*

    I’m going to go into my personal story about telling my boss about my anxiety below, but – if your financial situation allows it – I highly recommend going to see a psychiatrist if you think you are going to need accommodations at some point in the future. Mine has been great about working with me to try to determine what would help me in a given situation and offering to write accommodation letters if needed.

    I have both anxiety and depression and told my boss once I was diagnosed. I had only been with the company 6 months or so, but the anxiety was impacting my performance, so there was context for it (in short, I didn’t realize it was anxiety and was frequently having to leave early because I was vomiting).

    I am very grateful that I spoke to my boss. She was very understanding and, when my anxiety spiraled out of control because 2020, I was able to be frank with her and ask for basic accommodations like more flexible hours or more frequent breaks without feeling like I had to give her a back story. I also feel more empowered to ask her to stop doing things if they trigger my anxiety.

    I think this depends a lot on your boss’s personality. If they are generally non-judgmental and you want to say something, I say go for it. I know that some people judge mental illness as being not real or “just be happy” or whatever, but I feel like those people are becoming fewer and fewer as time wears on.

    Regardless of all else, I wish you the best of luck!

  42. Sleepy*

    One of my direct reports disclosed her depression and told me that she did not currently need accommodations, but she might need them at some point. Later, when she requested accommodations on short notice, it was helpful that we’d already discussed them because at that point her mental health had deteriorated to the point that she was having a hard time articulating what she needed. It was helpful for me to be able to say, “Earlier you said you might need X. Should we make that happen now?”

    That’s from my perspective as a manager. I 100% would not expect any employee to disclose anything they don’t want to–but sometimes it’s easier to make a game plan when you’re feeling well, not at your worst moment.

    However…there are a lot of horror stories in these comments, so I think it’s also wise to be cautious about sharing unnecessarily.

    1. Jess B*

      I think this is a great point – one of the ways that I notice that I’m struggling with my mental health is that I struggle to communicate. But that could mean that the OP could put together an email now about what they might require and keep it as a draft, or keep it as a note on their phone or something – they don’t necessarily have to talk to their boss about it right now (I agree that some of the stories in these comments have been… not good).

  43. Just @ me next time*

    This one hit home for me. I have issues with my mental health (diagnosed at 18 with rapid cycling bipolar NOS, but honestly these days it feels more like a combination of atypical depression and general anxiety). I have not disclosed to my boss, but I am worried I am going to have to this week.
    For my job, we have to track all of our hours worked against specific tasks (things like “client A – website updates” or “multiple-client communications plan”). Then there are overhead categories for general administration and general overhead. This is a unionized position with a specific number of hours we need to work a week, so we really do have to track everything.
    Things like checking/responding to emails, reading articles, scheduling, etc. are supposed to go under the general admin category. I have a lot of trouble with task-switching and staying focused, which means anything involving my crowded email inbox takes way longer than it should. And then, there is my anxiety and perfectionism over how people perceive me, which leads to me spending way longer than I should re-reading and rewriting every email I send. And then there is the fact that after seven hours of work that requires a lot of mental effort and creativity, I sometimes run out of juice even when I still have an hour of time on the clock. On those days I spend the last hour of the day reading articles or watching videos related to my job, kind of an informal professional development. I also categorize that as general administration.
    I’ve struggled a lot with shame and guilt over my less productive times, but I’ve been trying to let that go. I started telling myself that as long as I met my deadlines and received positive feedback on the work I submitted, it didn’t really matter if my overhead time was a bit high (1-2 hours out of 8ish a day). But today I got the dreaded email from the contractor who manages our time tracking software saying “hey, your overhead hours are way higher than we think they should be. Here’s a whole pile of reminders about what counts as what because obviously this is a result of you not knowing where to code time.” It’s not a result of me not knowing where to code time. I don’t know what my coworkers tracking looks like or what the baseline for overhead is, but I guess I need more time than other people for things like email and time management (I need like six different to-do lists to keep me on top of everything).
    I’ve got a check-in with my boss this week and I think I have to tell her what’s going on (she wasn’t copied on the email from the contractor, but another leader from our department who manages the budget was). I’m not worried about getting fired, since my union has great protections for employees. But I feel like this is confessing to being a bad person who isn’t good at my job. (See above comment about anxiety over how people perceive me).
    Ironically, all of the time I’ve wasted today panicking and crying is only increasing my overhead time.

    1. river*

      You said you don’t know what your coworker’s tracking looks like or what the baseline is. Could you try asking for examples to use as reference? Not your coworker’s actual tracking, but perhaps a mock-up or a theoretical example? I have no experience with this so ignore me if it’s not helpful. Personally I would hate working in the dark like that.

      1. Just @ me next time*

        That’s a good idea. I’ve only been in the job one year, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable for me to ask for more guidance. I don’t think my coworkers would mind sharing.

        1. Just @ me next time*

          Positive update: I brought this up at a morning chat with my teammates, and it turns out at least four of them got the same email. So it’s not a problem with my brain, it’s a problem with the tracking system. I am off the hook for now!

    2. Mizzle*

      Oh, please don’t panic!

      I totally understand how the email from the contractor would feel like a blow, and yet it could very well be that it was sent in the spirit of “if the shoe fits…” I imagine that they hardly care what you spend your time on – they’re only responsible for accurate reporting. If you reply something like “Thanks! I think I was doing it correctly, but I’ll check again!”, they’re likely to be satisfied.

      Checking in with your boss is a great idea! If indeed you’ve been receiving positive feedback, they might be perfectly happy to let you do things your way. (Apparently, you’re making up for it by being faster than expected as the other parts of your work.) Or, if they don’t want you to spend so much time on email, perhaps they can help reduce the volume!

      I think it could be interesting to ask some coworkers (several, because different people have different approaches) what works for them to reduce the time spent on overhead. In my experience, managers *love* hearing things like “I’ve noticed that I’m spending more time on overhead than I’d like, so I’ll be experimenting with [coworker]’s method to see if it makes a difference.”

  44. OwlEditor*

    OP, I’ve disclosed twice and had a different experience both times. I would recommend not doing it unless you need to. I had to because I needed accommodation. The first time was because I was hit with serious depression after a stressful seven months. I had moved to a different state in May for a temp admin job, only for that job to be revoked a month later. At first, my manager was so helpful, and found me a spot covering a maternity leave but I didn’t get that job when it became permanent (long story) and then to cover an FMLA leave, so I changed roles three times in the next few months, finally getting a permanent job there the week before Christmas. Then I collapsed. They fired me a little over a year later. It was a combination of things (one being the woman I supported did not like me and kept testing me, which wasn’t helping), and my manager turned into a micro one, having me email him as soon as I arrived at my desk, believing rumors about me without checking with me… this did not help either and I got the feeling that he and HR wanted me to be “over it”and couldn’t understand why I was still struggling with depression a year later. I reported them to HR and, ironically, the day the HR rep told me they couldn’t find any truth to my claim, but there would be no repercussions, I was fired. My depression wasn’t the sole reason, but I’m sure it was one of them.
    HOWEVER! My current job is amazing with mental health. I had a huge panic attack in November of 2016, only a few months after being hired and my manager was fabulous. She worked with me and HR to get me on FMLA and ADA accommodations. She was also honest with me when I was taking advantage of these accommodations and gave me chances to improve. HR has been great to work with too. The best part is my company has set up resource groups for employees for veterans, Latinx, Black/African-American, LGBTQ+, and also mental health! I love this group and I feel so supported by my company. When I was first hired, they also offered an EAP (employee assistance program) that had six free therapy sessions and a 24-hour support hotline. They then changed to an even better EAP provider. I’ve talked to this EAP about therapy options, I’ve called the 24 support line in the middle of panic attacks several times. We had an earthquake here at the beginning of the pandemic and I had a panic attack and called. The woman emailed me tips on staying safe during earthquakes. This helped so much as we had aftershocks for a long time. I don’t need to call the hotline as much now, but it helps me knowing it is there. I love the support I feel from my employer about mental health!
    So my advice would be to look at the current company culture and support systems. My former company didn’t have any of that. Oh, therapy was covered by insurance, but EAP. My current employer had that support system already in place. They’ve also been taking the pandemic seriously and consistently reminding us of the EAP, 24 support line, etc. available to their employees. So if your employer has the structures already in place, I think it would be a safe place to disclose should you need to!
    Best of luck, OP! It’s a hard battle, but you can do it! Reach out if you need help!

  45. Not So NewReader*

    Not disclosing can be good life advice about many different things we face.

    I have gone to the doctor’s/ER with an injury and had the doctor exclaim, “OH how YUKKY!”

    I should have asked for a different doctor right then. And I will never, ever let that one go by me unchecked again in my life. The conversation only got worse after his first remark.

    Punchline: Watch who you confide in. Chose slowly and carefully. Be prepared if that person does not handle it correctly. Know what you will do next if they have an unprofessional or unethical response. I should have reported this guy. Older and wiser now.

  46. Ciela*

    TL;DR I’m autistic, but can usually pass for neurotypical. I disclosed at work, and wish I hadn’t.

    I think Alison’s advice was spot on. Don’t disclose unless there is a concrete action you would like your boss to take.
    I am autistic. They used to call it Asperger’s Syndrome, but now High Functioning Autism. Give me a task, even a really repetitive one, and I’m good. I once put on a performance review that I liked having the same duties every day for the past 15+ years. The bosses thought I was being a smart ass. But I was being honest! Now thanks to AAM, and the ton of sample wording that Alison always gives, I say that I like stability in my work. Same meaning, softer language.
    Now people, I wish people came with an instruction manual. I often have a difficult time knowing what to say, especially to someone who is angry or upset. There were 2 instances that happened in short order a while back, so I disclosed to my bosses. I asked that if there was something they wanted me to do / not do / do differently, especially with regards to customer service, to tell me so with specificity. One customer screamed at me for not transferring her call to a person who had already left for the day. Another screamed at me, with obscenities (!), because some items she had purchased from a completely separate company were wrong. In both those cases I was told that a customer was not happy with me. When I asked, who? why? what? I was told substantially “you’re smart, you figure it out” or “if you don’t know, I can’t explain it”. Serious. They wouldn’t even tell me who was not happy with me for a few days. So I disclosed, with a very specific action that I wanted them to take. I was told to stop being autistic at work. WTAF?!? We have fewer that 15 employees, so no ADA, but really? But on the bright side (?) it’s been almost 10 years, and hasn’t been brought up again.

  47. A Steampunk Kinda Gal*

    It’s way too late for me to worry about disclosing, because I did so in the mid-1990s to my then-boss. She didn’t have any problems with it, because she was also dealing with depression, and, sadly, committed suicide a few weeks later. My next boss had been a friend and co-worker, so she knew. My current boss also knows the score, because, well, I am pretty sure it’s been mentioned in my performance reviews, since I had a truly horrible years-long performance slump, including panic attacks at my desk, etc. I have never really regretted being open about it, since it is what it is and while I know it narrowed some options, no one ever harried me about it. Of course, my office is not like most of the ones discussed here, because we really were like a family for the first twenty years I worked there, because of my first boss, who was a big sister to all of us. I truly loved her and still mourn her. Even after her death, there was a remnant of that feeling for several more years. It took a while, but we did finally get into a more professional mindset, as the people who’d worked for my first boss cycled into other companies. However, the openness and sharing that were a hallmark of our work life still persists even now. No one feels like they would be disadvantaged if they shared medical or personal details.

  48. Sally Forth*

    No, don’t disclose unless you need to.

    In a moment of courage, I disclosed to my direct manager and eventually our ED that my weekly doctor’s appointment was actually therapy for depression. My direct manager was understanding and did not disclose to the ED.

    One day I was having a normal concern about an issue during a staff meeting. When I repeated the concern the ED told me “my anxiety issue” was clouding my judgement. When I spoke to her afterward and said that I don’t have an anxiety issue, she told me that people with depression often have anxiety and I should get checked. I then realized other times when she had discounted my opinion. I started to work on ensuring my voice wasn’t sounding at all anxious when I spoke up in meetings but decided that was ridiculous.

    I quit over another issue soon after.

  49. Sunshower*

    I have bipolar and I didn’t tell my boss at first because I had been let go previously for having it. However, when I am not well it is apparent something is wrong, and everyone started wondering/asking out of concern. I found it is ultimately better for me to explain and put to rest what is happening than to let them wonder for themselves. It would be up to you if you think for your situation that people might jump to the wrong conclusions or make assumptions without the truth. If you can hide it though, I would stay silent.

  50. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Am a manager, and I’m pretty open about being on antidepressants, as they are one reason I can’t work past 6pm (the ones I’m on are old, not usually prescribed as they have health risks, have a major sedative effect but are the only ones that have ever worked for me). I’ll not deny if asked that I have had major depression since my early years.

    It’s not held me back.

    However…I don’t disclose my other psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia or that I’m on antipsychotics (even though the side effects of those can be zombie like) because while I’d sincerely love there being more understanding in the workplace that schizophrenia doesn’t equal violent unstable behaviour and that I’m no danger to anyone else I also know that change isn’t going to come from me. I mentioned my meds to one coworker ONCE and she asked to move desks because she was too scared to work next to me.

    (NO employer is ever going to be told about my nervous breakdown this year. Ever. Nor any coworkers. I will not admit that publicly)

    I can deal with the ‘antidepressants are just tools of big pharma and you don’t need them, you just need to go for a jog’ people easily. Well practised. I can’t deal with a whole team suddenly deciding I’m too unstable to manage them.

    So, essentially it boils down to: imagine possible outcomes and decide what you can deal with. As another functional depressive (“but you’re so funny, how can you have depression?!” I hear a lot) I totally hear you on that debate whether tis better to deal with things alone or ask for understanding.

    One day, we’ll treat mental illness with the same reduced stigma as say having asthma. I have that hope, but have to do what I feel is best to keep sane in the world we currently have.

  51. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I’ve disclosed depression in three different job scenarios and WISH I hadn’t each time, because I did it as “this is why I feel my work sucks”, even though I didn’t get an evaluation to find out first objectively if there was any problem with the quality of my work, or my attitude:
    The first time my employer not only treated me as fragile but went so far as to say that I wouldn’t be able to succeed without her explicit help in my career (as opposed to offering any concrete help, because I didn’t know to ask for any. She just said I should rely on her and never leave or I would never make it.

    The second time I also revealed my struggles to sympathize with a colleague, who was worried about his daughter’s depression. Combined with his older age, I was then treated as the fragile child of the office (I was 26).

    And the the third time (why didn’t I learn my lesson?), whenever I needed to critique a system, or evaluate a colleague, anything “negative”, like frustration with an office system everyone was struggling with, I would hear, “oh she feels that way because she’s depressed”.

    Alison is right. Fight the stigma by showing that progress can be made when people come together in concrete actions to make things work, not by merely acknowledging a disease.

  52. BipolarTwo*

    I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 about 10 years ago, after a sudden inpatient hospitalization and extended outpatient day treatment. I was of course on FMLA, and had only been at the job 3 years. I also didn’t trust my boss or grandboss. Our HR person confided in me generally that she had some struggles as well, so that made me feel slightly less anxious about people finding out. My new boss came in about 2 years after that, and I waited 6 more years to tell her. It was very difficult for me to let her know, but frankly, it was affecting my work and I knew I would theoretically be protected the ADA. I applied and was approved for intermittent leave one day when I called in sick. When I returned to the office, I disclosed. I know it is/was none of her business, but her anxiety about my absences rubbed off and I just explained matter-of-factly what was going on, what to expect, etc. She was very grateful to have some context (even though we both know shes; not entitle to it), and I think it made our trust stronger. I could have not disclosed, but salvaging the collegial relationship we had was important to me and for my career. She was extremely empathetic and I no longer got “anxious” vibes when I needed to be out of the office.

  53. Depressive Office Drone*

    I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for much of my life. I am in therapy and take daily medication, and am mostly functional (though this winter has been very hard so far). There have been bosses I’ve disclosed this to, and ones I haven’t – it comes down to individual assessment, and while you can’t reliably tell who’s going to be reasonable and who will be discriminatory, I’ve always felt it best to err on the side of caution. I take the occasional sick day for mental health reasons, but I never disclose that they are for mental health – I just call in sick with as much notice as possible, apologize for the inconvenience to my coworkers, and turn off my work phone. I’m a big proponent of taking whatever your work offers in terms of non-monetary compensation (sick days, vacation days, etc.) and using it without reserve, as necessary. But if you have any doubts about potential retaliation at work due to your disability, I wouldn’t ask for specific accommodations unless absolutely necessary. You’ll likely know if and when it becomes absolutely necessary. But take sick days as you need them, without compunction.

    A side note: I really hate that “mental health day” has become code for “I just need a day off to recharge” or “I just Can’t Even and I’m calling in”. Those things are reasonable and our culture should allow for them, but when I call in sick due to mental illness, I am really, actually, sick – days I can’t stop crying, days I can hardly get out of bed, days I barely eat. I’ve been in the “ennui/burnout/mental health day” space and it is qualitatively different as an experience, so I never use that phrasing when I am talking about actually taking a sick day for my mental health.

  54. Anna*

    Hi! I have a small bundle of lifelong mental health complaints that I manage with a combination of humor, therapy, and atypical antipsychotics. (Hey, some of us win that genetic lottery so hard that they throw drugs at us. Can’t blame us for being natural rock stars.) So I have some experience with the disclosure problem, and I’ve got this to say: it depends on your workplace. I was abruptly forced out of a job once when my supervisor discovered I had a diagnosis. (Illegal, you say? Indeed, says I! There’s no documented evidence that this employer retaliated on the basis of a diagnosed medical condition, says the state.) But at my next gig, which lasted a very good five years, I eventually needed to be open about my disorder just because there were days (and even stretches of days) when I needed to be home – the hours were irregular and that exacerbated my condition a little. And they were great about it! In fact, I knew of two other people on staff who had issues much like mine and nobody ever faced anything but the most compassionate and understanding support. It’s a super thorny issue and worth talking to a therapist about (you should really get a therapist if you can, they’re super handy.) Good luck.

  55. Bare Naked*

    Hi, what do you do in the instance where you are being forced to disclose all conditions and medications on an insurance form?

    If you do not agree to disclose, then no health insurance. In this case my company is looking at getting self insured and my BOSS is the one who is administering the program.

    To be clear, I am fine paying CASH for the related appointments and meds…. and have good relationship with said boss but…

    “Any omissions or falsifications are grounds for cancellation of insurance or revocation of benefits and/or punishable by up to 10 YEARS in a Pound-me-in-the-ass PRISON!” HELP!

    1. anon today*

      Yes, one of the problems with companies self-insuring is that they get too much private medical information now that they actually do qualify under HIPAA.

      Do you love your job enough you don’t want to start searching for one with traditional health insurance?

      Also, this is a great example of why separating health insurance from employment is a good idea… like other major countries do.

  56. SimplyAlissa*

    I’ve been pretty upfront about my depression and anxiety in my current workplace….in part because a (former) coworker triggered me to have a panic attack in the office (he had a bad phone call and started kicking boxes and yelling).

    But also I work in a very small office. There’s only 3.5 of us (one’s a PT intern). I might be less likely to disclose in a larger more corporate environment. And it’s hard to put my finger on where’s the line of what kind of office would I share, and what kind won’t I share.

    I actually told my boss that I had a self-harm incident over Xmas, and felt like I was heading for something worst. Not just to share but to explain why I was taking an extra week off, and going to be working remote on the clunky, slow, old laptop for however long out of state at a family member’s house instead of at home with my much faster desktop set up at home.

    Part of it is because I don’t think mental health issues are shameful and I guess I feel like sharing helps normalize it so the next generation of employees aren’t working at a disadvantage. And part of it is to give the boss a heads up that I won’t be working through tasks at my usual superstar speed.
    Because this travel laptop sucks.

  57. Foxgloves*

    When I first got put on antidepressants, my doctor told me I needed to tell someone at home and someone at work, because of the side effects in the first few weeks. I chose to tell my then-boss- and he had what I thought was the best response ever, which was “Thanks for letting me know- I’m going to treat it the exact same as Jim’s severe asthma, in that it’s useful to know in case anything goes wrong, but I won’t otherwise mention it or ask you about it”. Perhaps, if you choose to tell them, you could frame it that way? I.e. “this is a chronic health condition managed by medication in the same way that asthma is- as with asthma, some days may be worse than others, but for the most part it shouldn’t be anything for you to consider”?

  58. Caradom*

    I have Bipolar disorder. I got a job that was ideal for me. Luckily the job has a lot of flexibility some of the time. I had no intention of declaring it. I discussed it with my favourite GP and he agreed with my reasoning which was to wait 6 months then have it on my medical file so if I was found out I could say it happened after I got the job.

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