If you are distressed (for example, feeling anxious or depressed) and think that you may have a mental health problem, you should seek help. Remember that everyone feels stressed or anxious from time to time. If the feelings continue for more than two weeks; prevent you from eating, sleeping, or working; interfere with the quality of your relationships; or if you want to harm yourself, you should seek help immediately.

Check to see what resources are available from your employer, your health plan and within your community.  (Some employers have Employee Assistance Plans or EAPs which can provide links to counseling.)

If you don’t know where to go for assistance,  contact your local mental health association. Or, contact the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania at 717.346.0549.

Talking to Your Employer

Q: Do I have to tell my employer that I’m ill?

A:  If you are able to come to work, in most cases you do not have to tell your employer that you are ill. However, if you have a mental health problem that could affect your ability to do your job, you will need to consider the benefits and risks of disclosure.

Q: Are there circumstances in which I must disclose my illness?

A:  In some cases you may be required to disclose the fact that you have an illness; if, for example:

  • Your employee benefit plan requires you to submit claims through your employer rather than directly to the company.
  • Your employer has an absenteeism policy that requires you to provide a medical certificate if you miss more than a specified number of days of work.
  • You are requesting accommodation. You do not necessarily have to disclose the nature of your illness, but you will have to provide enough information to the employer about your disability so that appropriate accommodation can be provided.

Q: Are there other benefits to disclosing information about my illness to my employer?

  • It is very stressful to be in a situation where you feel that you must hide an illness.
  • Your employer may be able to provide you with support if they are aware of your problem. Otherwise, they may misinterpret a change in your behavior as a performance issue.
  • It enables your employer to help you more quickly and effectively if you become ill while at work, whether from your illness or from the side effects of medication.

Q: What are the risks of disclosing information about my illness?

  • Discrimination against people with a mental illness is common even in enlightened companies. Your long-term career goals may be affected.
  • If your employer is not familiar with mental illness they may be nervous or begin to treat you differently.
  • It may create uneasiness and tension between you and your employer if they are not sure how to treat you or are afraid that they may do something that will make you ill.
  • Information you disclose may be shared with others, including your colleagues.

Q: Are there things I should look for before I disclose my illness to my employer?

  • Does your company have an accommodation policy?
  • Some employers have a health centre. You may want to speak to the health centre staff first.
  • Does your employer have a privacy policy? If you tell your manager or supervisor about your illness, will they keep it confidential?

As you weigh the benefits and risks of disclosing your illness to your employer, consider:

  • Are you comfortable with your employer, manager/supervisor and co-workers?
  • What are your circumstances within the company? (For example, your work performance or your skills may make you particularly valuable.)
  • Does the organization have accommodation or disability policies in place that show it’s open to helping workers with mental health problems?
  • Do you know of anyone else in the organization who has disclosed a mental health problem? Did they receive accommodation? They might be open to talking with you about their experience.
  • How stressful is it for you to hide your mental health problem?