Employers: To Tell or Not to Tell

Yes, I know.  This subject has been beat to death.

After four weeks of LOA, as my return to work date draws near, of course whether or not to tell my employer I am bipolar is a topic I must revisit.  And, I’m sorry to say my opinion on the subject hasn’t changed one iota. Here’s why…

Being on LOA means I am, of course, home.  My husband does work from home for a large chunk of his 40 hour-plus work weeks.  These past weeks have really driven home for me what my husband has to suffer through at work and why.  He reported to a man who is bipolar for the first three of his five years with the company.  Now, you’re probably thinking, “Hooray!  A high-ranking executive in a major corp comes clean about our condition!  WOOT!”

Not so much.

This man, let’s call him John, went through a period where he was shouting through the rooftop about his bipolarity to anyone daring to stop long enough to listen.  Yes, this is a courageous thing to do.  Except this self-awareness campaign was part of the larger manic campaign during which John stopped taking his meds.  HUGE red flag, right?  John wreaked so much havoc in the six months he was off meds, although not officially ‘fired,’ he was asked to leave the company.

Fast forward to today, and two years after John’s departure, fallout is still occurring from actions taken and decisions made while he was manic / off meds.  The more depressing part of this not-so-fairy-tale ending is those who survived his manic wake are still lambasting him for his bipolarity, blaming the illness and perpetuating the stigma.  For benefit of my DH, I should make it clear that many things John was allowed to get away with were just plain wrong, and I am not suggesting for one second he should have been given amnesty due to his illness.  Management and HR should have stepped in long before they did.  Hell, I, too, have been the victim of crap managers who were not bipolar or mentally ill and the effects and fallout were eerily similar.  What I am saying is admitting to your employer and colleagues you are bipolar still makes people perceive your actions in a different way.  If John were ‘just a crap manager’ and not admitted he is bipolar, would that have changed how the staff sees the present drama?  Would they still be uttering his name under their breath and joining it with swear words and mental illness slurs?  I am not sure.  But, probably not.  Two years is a long time to harbor resentment against an ex-boss.  So, there’s got to be more to the story.

I am still extremely sensitive about mental illness stigma.  As I plan my exit strategy from my current job, it has occurred to me should I out myself and then leave the company, the same thing will probably happen to me that happened to John, just on a lesser scale.

“She left the company?”

“Yes she did.  Did you know she was bipolar?

“Really!?!”

“I bet that’s what drove her to it.  Just couldn’t hack the job.”

And you know, they would be right.  But just imagining that dialogue in my head is hurtful.  And that is only one of the reasons why I will never reveal my condition to my employer.  Stigma is not only alive and well, but it’s longevity rivals that of an elephant’s memory.

I never tell people I work with that I am bipolar. Think that they would be surprised to know it. I am always so positive and cheerful.
John sounds like he may also have an ill-temperament to boot; it is his character, not just that he is bipolar.
Do try not to be so self-conscious about being bipolar. I must tell myself this also. Sometimes a job just isn’t well-suited for you period.

You make an excellent point and example which as caused me to “re-think” keep my condition a secret as I embark on a new job in the next month or so. You are absolutely correct, the stigma is still alive and most likely, will always be. I’ve always believed that being up front with certain people, I.e. Bosses, was the best policy, but now I need to carefully asses just exactly what I might or might not say!

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