For many individuals living with mental illness, symptoms can affect their daily life—including work. While disclosing information to one’s boss might sound intimidating, it’s often necessary—and can have positive impacts.
We talked to Employment Specialist Ebony about how she helps clients decide to disclose their mental illness at work.
Q: It can be difficult to decide to disclose your mental illness at work. What are the reasons people may want to do so?
Ebony: Reasons vary, however some primary reasons are that they themselves are impacted daily by their mental health diagnosis. It can be very empowering to disclose and help bring awareness and understanding to mental health and people that deal with it regularly.
Sometimes I have clients whose diagnosis doesn’t impact their day-to-day life, and they choose not to disclose their illness if it does not impact their job. Sometimes they disclose due to their diagnosis and need for accommodations at their job.
For example, an individual might have anxiety and be triggered easily. They might need additional breaks or other accommodations when dealing with a flare-up, so they might go to their employer and disclose their illness and discuss their needs.
Q: How do Employment Specialists help clients decide to disclose their mental illness with their employer?
Ebony: In Employment Services, we have a disclosure worksheet. It asks leading questions to help the client determine if it’s the appropriate time to disclose or not disclose. We ask the individual these questions which lead into whether or not it’s necessary. We use it as a tool.
As an Employment Specialist, I get to know my clients in-depth and often feel like it may benefit them to disclose and therefore I have a conversation with them to see if they agree or feel the same. I’m often going and speaking on behalf of my clients and acting as an advocate for their needs and the benefit of disclosure.
I let clients know I might share with an employer who I am and the work I do so they understand – “I’m an Employment Specialist working with [client’s name].” I might say why I’m speaking on their behalf or I might not. Whenever I’m talking to employers on behalf of the client, I ask if they mind if I disclose their mental illness and explain why I may.
Q: If someone decides to disclose their mental illness at work, who should they talk to?
Ebony: I recommend talking to your direct supervisor. You can also get a lead from your supervisor on whether or not to talk to HR. Primarily we start with disclosure to the direct supervisor; the individual that would be working closely and overseeing the clients’ workflow on an everyday basis.
Q: How do Guild’s Employment Services help individuals with a serious mental illness?
Ebony: We provide tons of support, and we individualize support for each client according to the IPS standards. Not everyone’s abilities or limitations are the same, so our services are detailed to support the person.
We act as a conduit or bridge between our clients and employers, so we go out (job development) and do a lot of preparation beforehand to make appropriate employment referrals and try to match people to employment that they will enjoy or desire.
We provide online and paper application assistance, transport individuals to and from interviews, and have lots of conversations with employers to build networking relationships with community employers and future referrals requests and training resources.
We help build and update resumes and cover letters, do job searching on behalf of clients, introduce individuals to tricks to obtain their employment goals, and help support their mental health goals.
We also do job coaching and help individuals identify or determine how they may be impacted once they start working if they are receiving other financial benefits. There’s a lot of supporting individuals in whatever their employment needs are.
Read more about disclosing your mental illness with your employer here, here, and here.
At Guild, we use an effective supportive employment model to help individuals find and keep employment of their choice. To find out if you qualify for Guild’s Employment Services, please call our Community Access line at (651) 925-8490.
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