“Jim” (not his real name) called me recently about his struggle with major depression and how his employer treated him after he disclosed it to his supervisor.
“Jim” is retired military and currently works as a civilian contractor for one of the service branches.
“I can’t concentrate,” he told me, “and I have to miss a lot of work.”
“Jim” said in order to keep his job he decided to tell his supervisor that his frequent absences were due to depression and he was going to get help.
“I didn’t get much sympathy,” he said, “in fact my flight authorizations were stopped, which had an impact on my job because it requires a lot of traveling.”
Why flight authorizations cancelled? Maybe the boss thought “Jim” would hijack the plane or bomb it to commit suicide and still get life insurance for his family.
Instead of helping a hard-working, experienced employee, the supervisor hurt not only the employee, but also the company they both serve.
There are two lessons to learn from this story:
1. Negative disclosure consequences could have been avoided had the employer implemented a mental health friendly workplace beginning with educating all supervisors about mental illness;
2. “Jim” needed his own education about depression, too. He had avoided seeing a psychiatrist his primary care doctor recommended perhaps out of fear of more stigma. He didn’t say.
“Jim” chose to disclose and get help to restore his productivity, but the supervisor did what far too many supervisors do by stigmatizing him.
Research suggests that workers with a mental health issue perform better if they disclose the issue than if they hide it.
Should you disclose your depression? First, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish by telling your boss, advises Clare Miller, the director of the American Psychiatric
Foundation's Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, which helps employers develop effective approaches to mental health.
For instance, disclosure may be in your best interest if you need special accommodations to do your job, such as the option of starting later in the day because you're on a new medication
that makes you sleepy in the morning or taking sick leave if you are having a particularly tough time emotionally.
“Disclosure is probably also a good idea if depression if causing your job performance to suffer noticeably”, says Miller. "But try to do it early in the game as opposed to waiting until you get a bad performance review," she added.
Another important consideration for self-disclosure is the atmosphere of your workplace. Stigma isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it still exists.
If you want to see a success story about corporate support of mental health in the workplace, see “A ‘Smart Little Company’ Lowers Healthcare Costs; Creates Healthy Workforce”. It is
bout Highsmith, Inc, which employs only 1,000 people.
Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among adults 15 to 44 years old, affecting nearly 7 percent of adults
in the U.S. each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And depression causes an estimated $23 billion in lostoductivity in the U.S. each year.
" Thirty-four percent of lost productivity is caused by depression and stress disorders, yet 86% of employees with stress or depression prefer to suffer in silence and businesses pay the
price,” according to Graeme Cowan, author of Back from the Brink: True Stories and Practical Help for Overcoming Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Depression disclosure in the workplace is a matter of dollars and it makes good sense.