Many workers with “invisible” disabilities, including mental health and neurological conditions, hesitate to disclose them to their employers due to fear of discrimination or bias, despite increased awareness and reduced stigma surrounding these conditions.

Approximately 50 million American adults live with mental, emotional, or behavioral conditions, and around 5.5 million have autism. The National Institutes of Health projects that over half of all Americans will experience a mental health disorder at some point.

We conducted a study to explore the disclosure decisions of approximately 1,000 workers with psychological or neurological conditions and how their bosses responded.

How Many Disclose

About half (50 percent) of workers with conditions like bipolar disorder or learning disabilities have shared with a colleague, and a similar percentage have disclosed to management or HR. However, a significant portion (30 percent) have told no one at work about their condition.

A majority (57 percent) of respondents feel more comfortable disclosing to a colleague rather than management or HR. This hesitancy toward disclosing to higher-ups may stem from concerns about job security and career growth.

Neurological Condition Vs. Mental Health Disclosures

Neurological conditions involve structural, biochemical, or electrical abnormalities in the brain, while mental health conditions are characterized by disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without always identifiable neurological causes.

Examples of neurological conditions include epilepsy, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and autism, while mental health conditions include depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Employees with neurological disorders are more likely to disclose their conditions due to experiencing less stigma compared to those with mental health conditions.

Neurological conditions, often present from birth or childhood, may lead to greater acceptance of the necessity of disclosure and self-advocacy among affected individuals.

Disclosure is often driven by strategic empowerment or necessity, with past experiences shaping individuals’ optimism about sharing their conditions.

What Happened When People Disclosed?

Here’s some good news. Nearly 75 percent of employees who disclosed their mental health or neurological conditions felt supported, experiencing positive outcomes like relief, improved work environments, and stronger relationships with colleagues.

However, about 10 percent of those who disclosed reported unsupportive responses from HR or management, leading to negative consequences such as bullying, reduced opportunities, and changes in how colleagues perceived them.

Some felt compelled to disclose to access accommodations or legal protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and mandates reasonable accommodations and protection from retaliation by employers or colleagues.

Requesting Accommodations

Although the ADA entitles workers with mental health and neurological conditions to accommodations such as flexible work schedules, only one-in-five (19 percent) of employees request accommodations.

Additionally, 24 percent of employees reported having no one at work they would feel comfortable discussing their mental health with, highlighting a need for improved support systems in the workplace.

Making the Decision to Disclose

The decision to disclose a mental health or neurological condition to your employer depends on various factors such as workplace culture and personal preference. If your condition impacts your work performance or requires accommodations, it may be beneficial to have an open conversation with your manager or HR department.

Consider the timing and whom to disclose to, ensuring professionalism and confidentiality. Documentation from a licensed health provider may be required for accommodations, with common requests including flexible work schedules or workspace modifications.

While the ADA mandates reasonable accommodations, employers can refuse if it results in undue hardship for the company.

If employers refuse to help or discriminate based on your condition, seeking legal advice or finding a more supportive workplace may be necessary.

​​What Kind of Accommodations, Exactly?

Here is what employees most often request, and how employers can respond.

  1. Enhance accommodations: Employers should offer diverse accommodations like deadline extensions, additional sick leave, flexible schedules, and remote work options, discussed during onboarding.
  2. Improve education programs: Implement comprehensive training for employees and management on mental health and neurological conditions to reduce stigma.
  3. Increase support: Prioritize mental well-being by having mental health professionals, paid mental health days, and nondiscrimination policies. Offer free counseling, therapy appointments, and employee assistance programs.
  4. Prioritize confidentiality and non-retaliation: Ensure confidential handling of health information and protect employees from negative consequences, such as harassment or discrimination.
  5. Implement inclusive policies: Establish workplace policies recognizing and accommodating the needs of individuals with mental health and neurological conditions, including dedicated disability services and clear procedures.

Workplace culture influences disclosure decisions, so let’s get to work supporting each other.

 

Source: hrdailyadvisor.blr.com, Lindsay Renne Schwartz

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