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To Tell or Not to Tell

The following is an Editorial Resource from YourTotalHealth.

Reviewed by:  Steven A. King, M.D.

bipolarIf you're diagnosed with bipolar disorder, should you tell your employer—or stay quiet? If your condition is controlled, experts say, silence may be golden.

Legally, your employer can't discriminate against you. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 2009 (ADAAA) forbids employers from discriminating against employees with mental or physical disabilities, including bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness). But given the lingering stigma attached to mental illness, experts say it's to your advantage not to tell—unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

"If things at work are going well, the fact that you have bipolar is simply no one else's business," says Karen Fuqua of Ocean Springs, MS, a workforce and career-development expert specializing in mental-health disabilities in the workplace and a member of the board of directors of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. "There's no more need to tell anyone about it than there is to tell them about having high cholesterol or diabetes or some other medical condition."

But she recommends divulging your diagnosis right away if things aren't going well—for example, if your condition is making it hard to get to work on time. "The last thing you want to do," says Fuqua, "is leave your boss a cryptic voicemail message and then miss a week of work."

If you do decide to share, find out if your employer has a formal policy regarding health conditions, and if so, heed it. If not, Fuqua recommends telling your supervisor or the company's human resource manager. Share your condition, request any accommodation that could assist you and emphasize that you are doing the most that you can to minimize the illness' impact on your job performance. Choose a trustworthy and mature individual to talk to, whether that person is in management or in human resources. Most professionals will want to help employees who are taking responsibility for their situation, so that the work environment runs smoothly.

In an emotional crisis, of course, it may not be easy to have this conversation, or to take the other steps necessary to safeguard your personal and financial interests. For this reason, Fuqua urges everyone with bipolar disorder to take time to create a written plan outlining exactly what steps need to be taken in a crisis. Simply writing the plan will boost your confidence and limit the negative impact on yourself and your family.

—David Freeman

What's Next: Form a Support Network


Review Date: July 30, 2009


Ask Your Doctor

bipolar disorderBefore you go to your doctor’s office, be prepared to ask these questions, according to your situation:


More Resources

Bipolar disorder


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