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Disclosing mental health conditions to an employeer

Many students chose to work whilst at University to gain skills and fund living or tuition costs. Working, on top of the many academic and social pressures that students face, might negatively affect a students’ mental health. However, when in employment, students may be reluctant to disclose mental health conditions to the workplace.

Some students may fear the stigma of mental health or may have misconceptions about mental health in the workplace. For instance, it is often assumed that not many people in the workplace struggle with mental health conditions. However, one-sixth of the population experience a mental health condition at one point in time. Additionally, amongst students, mental health issues are more prevalent than non-students. Therefore, it is likely that many people within a workplace (especially if it is a big company) may have similar experiences. [1]

Moreover, it is thought that disclosing a mental health condition can hinder career progression. This is not necessarily the case. For instance, let us consider a depressed medical student working two days a week at a hospital. They are worried that disclosing their mental health condition may make them seem incompetent thus leading to their University kicking them off their Medicine course. This student is receiving therapy and monitored regularly by their GP. Additionally, they can get out of bed most days and get to work to treat their patients. In this instance, a board will review their fitness to practice. However, they should be okay to continue working. If this student’s functioning became worse, for instance, they become unable to get out of bed, routinely misses shifts and makes many mistakes when they can work, fitness to practice is being compromised. However, at this point, a doctor may take sick leave and return when they are better [2]. Therefore, struggling with a mental health condition is not necessarily a death sentence for your career.

Also, It is also thought that if you disclose a mental health condition, you may be denied a job. However, you do not need to disclose a mental health condition during an interview. Unfortunately, there are some employers who may discriminate. For instance, an employer might offer someone a job, but upon disclosing a mental health condition, they may withdraw the offer. An employer might also fail to make reasonable adjustments. By the Equality Law (2010) this is illegal an employee should seek out legal action.

The Equality Law (2010) [3] states that employers cannot discriminate employees with disabilities. Employers should make reasonable adjustments to accommodate an employee with a disability. Under this category of disabilities is any mental health condition that affects your ability to function day today. For example, someone with social anxiety disorder might struggle with daily tasks such as responding to phone calls and talking to colleagues. Moreover, a student with bipolar disorder might struggle to attend work as they might impulsively decide to see a friend or go on a holiday. In terms of adjustments, an employer could try to mitigate triggers in the workplace. An employer could improve the work experience for someone with social anxiety disorder by giving letting them have their own desk, so they do not have to hot desk.

A key benefit of disclosing mental health to an employer is that they can monitor progress. Mental health conditions can negatively affect performance in the workplace. Without disclosing your issue, an employer might not understand how to help you develop or may perceive you as struggling with your role. Mentioning a mental health condition and how it affects your performance can help a manager manage their expectations or adapt to your workload. For people experiencing mental health treatment, you may need time off or sick days which can be arranged by a manager [4].

So far, as a University student, I have had seven part-time jobs (excluding short term contracts less than a month). For five of them, I chose to disclose my mental health conditions to my employers. The two where I have not disclosed my conditions were remote work meaning that I was very flexible with work. Where I have disclosed my mental health conditions, I have received a lot of support. I struggle with an eating disorder and I hate eating in front and talking about food. Moreover, I experience a lot of instability with food which can affect my performance and mood. For instance, when I am unable to eat much, I struggle with getting any work done. In the past, I have disclosed my issues through email (sometimes having to provide medical evidence). My employers have been able to mitigate triggers, for instance, warning me if there will be food so I am not caught by surprise. Additionally, some employers have reduced my workload when needed.  

Disclosing a mental health condition may be quite daunting. However, by law, employers cannot discriminate against you if you have a mental health condition. For more information and support, please look at the following links.

[1] Deloitte Mental health video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceNpskozIqw

[2] Mental health, doctors: https://www.bma.org.uk/collective-voice/policy-and-research/education-training-and-workforce/supporting-the-mental-health-of-doctors-in-the-workforce

[3] Equality Law (2010) https://www.gov.uk/employment-status/worker

[4] Returning to work after mental health: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/returning-to-work-after-mental-health-issues/





When can an employer ask about mental health conditions: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/legal-rights/discrimination-at-work/applying-for-jobs/#two

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