ON MENTAL ILLNESS: To Disclose or Not to Disclose

By Jack Bragen
Friday May 11, 2012 - 07:49:00 PM

A man wrote in who wanted an opinion applicable to someone he had dealt with who had not disclosed their psychiatric disability. His question pertained to employment and other business dealings. The reader wondered about the disclosure of a disability, and being up front from the beginning, versus concealing a psychiatric condition. I believe that it is a significant question that most people with a psychiatric disability must face. 

There is no exact rule concerning whether or not we should disclose our disability when attempting to get hired or when attempting to do other things in which people could discriminate. Some people believe you should be honest from the beginning so that your disability can be accommodated. Others believe you should not reveal it because you will be discriminated against. 

It might be unfair to an employer or other business associate not to reveal one's disability if it turns out to be something that affects their business. However, by revealing this disability, a person could be discriminated against, or could be treated at work as someone who is "different." It can be very humiliating and degrading to be treated as a "special person." This is if a person is not so clueless that they either pretend it isn't there, or don't notice it. 

If this were the 1980's I would have advised people to keep to themselves any information about having a psychiatric disability. In most of the jobs at which I worked in that decade, I did not, at least initially, reveal my mental illness. Had I done so, I probably never would have been hired. My disability, at many of the times when I was in the job market, did not pertain to or affect my job performance, and it was none of the business of my employers. In some circumstances the disability doesn't affect the job and thus is none of the employer's business. In other situations, it could be something the employer should know. 

When I kept my disability to myself, it gave me a chance to be treated the same as everyone else. This meant that things would not be made easier for me. It also meant that I would not have the humiliation of someone treating me as a half-idiot. It is important to many persons with a disability that they not be treated as different. It means that if I succeed at a job, I must have equal capabilities to others who are not mentally ill. This is perception of being capable positively impacts self-esteem. 

A sheltered job may negatively affect self esteem even more than simply being unemployed. I can't speak for others with a disability; however for me it creates a perception of being an incompetent and incapable person. 

On the other hand, non-disclosed mental illness in a job is like a handicap to a golfer. A person with mental illness may start out with a disadvantage (due to paranoia or due to being medicated), yet due to a higher level of effort or knack, could end up with equal or better performance than others doing the same job. This statement assumes the existence of underlying excellence, which isn't always present. 

If self esteem, or proving that you are equal, is not an issue, and you simply want to do some work and get paid, sometimes disclosure is the way. Because employers are given incentives to hire disabled individuals, it could be a way to get one's foot in the door ahead of the seething masses of desperate unemployed people. If we are hungry, and a meal is in front of us, we do not give a huge amount of thought to how it was paid for, we eat. 

Disabilities or any information about a person are today harder to conceal than they were one or two decades ago. Thus, a person has a likelihood of later on in the job being terminated for lying. 

Concerning dating, if seeking a relationship with a non-disabled person, I believe it is necessary in nearly all cases to delay disclosure. Revealing up front that you have a mental illness will cause most "mainstream" people to immediately hang up the phone, block your emails, or walk out on a first date. Give someone a chance to realize that you are a good person. However, revealing the disability should happen before getting into bed with a person. This, at least, will prevent you from being guilty of misrepresenting yourself. If dating someone who also has a physical or mental disability, delaying disclosure is usually unnecessary; the other person will probably have some understanding. 

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This is just a reminder that my self-published book, "Jack Bragen's Essays On Mental Illness" is available on Amazon, and so is my science fiction collection, called, "Selected Short Fiction of Jack Bragen." I can be reached at with your comments which, along with your name, will be kept confidential unless you specify otherwise. I am not a licensed mental health practitioner and can not give advice to individuals.