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Should you disclose a mental illness in a job interview?

Here is a sobering fact: 92.6% of people have experienced mental health problems that have affected their work - and most of those challenges existed before the pandemic. If this startling figure from Workable's Mental Health in the Workplace: 2022 Worker Survey triggers you as a job seeker, you are probably unsure how to bring up this topic with a potential employer.

Employers surveyed in this January 2022 report revealed that employee mental health is a top priority for companies this year, which shows that many organizations no longer stigmatize the issue. There’s no shame in admitting you struggle with mental health issues. In fact, being open about these issues can be beneficial to your professional future. By talking to a potential employer about your mental health issues, you show that you are willing to be open about them and manage these issues. This can only reflect positively on your character and work ethic.

However, the employees we surveyed told us that not everyone considers their workplace a safe haven to talk about mental health issues. Men and minorities, in particular, feel they cannot discuss their mental health problems with their supervisors, and overall, one in three workers agree with this sentiment. So what does this mean for potential employees? Is it appropriate to disclose your mental health matters in an interview and will they be received objectively?

What are your rights?

An applicant is not required to disclose any medical conditions during an interview, even if asked. In fact, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are prohibited from asking questions about physical and mental illnesses during job interviews. This law protects candidates from discrimination based on their disability status. However, it is reasonable for potential employers to ask you about your ability to do your job. For example, they may ask about problems you have had at work in the past. They may also ask about gaps in your resume, which in your case could be due to your illness.

Therefore, you should consider talking about your illness and its treatment during the interview if questions about your ability to handle stress at work come up. This may deter some employers, but there are a few reasons why you should do it anyway.

The benefits of disclosing your mental health in an interview

  • At a workplace that knows your history and is willing to give you a chance, you can be sure that your supervisors will be supportive. If the company you are applying to has a proactive approach to mental health, it likely already has policies and programs in place to support employees with mental health conditions – which means the company culture is a good fit for you.
  • If you have a mental illness that requires accommodations, you must discuss these with your employer before any can be made. You do not have to disclose the illness during the interview or hiring process, but it’s beneficial to do so before problems arise. This way, the company has more flexibility to structure your work to minimize stress and potential problems.
  • Before you go to an interview, consider whether your symptoms or the side effects of your medications might affect your ability to do the job. If there is a possibility that your condition could affect your job performance (or have safety implications), you should tell your potential employer in advance. That way, they can decide if they can accommodate your needs, and you can avoid unpleasant surprises later.
  • Finally, being able to talk openly about your illness is an important part of coming to terms with how it shapes your identity. This is important because when you are faced with old stress reactions again, it is helpful to have a support network, both in terms of your treatment team and in the workplace. If you feel supported, you will have the space to identify problems early and prevent them from becoming more significant issues.

However, be sure to read the room. Before you talk about mental health issues you have had in the past, it’s essential to assess the level of rapport you have with the person you are talking to. Ensure the conversation is going well and that you connect with this person; otherwise, telling that personal story could be perceived as an overshare. If people feel comfortable talking about mental health as a normal part of the conversation, it will be a positive experience for both parties – so open up if you’re feeling it.

Ok, but what’s the next step? How should you go about disclosing it?

When talking to potential employers about your illness, be brief and direct. There is no need to go into excessive detail or give a complete medical history. Instead, provide the most important information factually. Here is an example of how you can word it:

“I am the ideal candidate for this position because of my excellent skills, relevant experience, and personal qualities. If I become unwell, I have a solid plan in place to manage my illness, and it will not affect my ability to do the job. If necessary, I would expect my employer to make reasonable accommodations, such as flexible work schedules, so that I can continue to work effectively.”

Final thoughts

If you have struggled with a mental health issue and have learned how to manage it, it shows your strength and ability to overcome difficult challenges. Talk about it in your interview, just as you would any other case of learning and growth you have experienced in your professional life. This is a real asset that you can mention alongside your other accomplishments.

You should also keep this in mind. By being open about your condition, you can take on the role of a mental health advocate. This gives you the opportunity to lead by example, break down negative stereotypes and educate others about mental wellness. Your actions and words can provide hope to those struggling and make a real difference in the lives of others.

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