Wednesday, December 2, 2009

To Tell or Not to Tell: Mental Illness in the Workplace

Elyn Saks, Associate Dean and Orrin B.Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California, recently wrote an article about mental illness in academe for The Chronicle of Higher Education. In the article, Dr. Saks details her own personal journey with schizophrenia and her decision to disclose the illness to colleagues. She discusses the pros/cons of disclosing mental illness while working in the often competitive academic environment. Dr. Saks also provides suggestions for how to effectively manage mental illness that transcend the world of academia---learn about the illness, understand how it impacts you, engage a good treatment team, and structure your professional life so that it works.

Dr. Saks' article raises an important question applicable to all workplaces--should one disclose mental illness to colleagues? The stigma of mental illness is alive and well in our society. Try as we might to be an open, accepting society, we are quick to judge when told that a friend or loved suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression. It's difficult to understand when one has mental illness--it's not physically visible like a broken leg or the flu.

Given the stigma, I ask...what are the pros/cons to disclosing mental illness in the workplace? Have you disclosed? How do you manage mental illness in the workplace?


Lisa Colby, LSW

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