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Mental Illness: The Right Not To Disclose

Updated on February 28, 2010

To Disclose Or Not To Disclose

Under federal law persons with mental illness do not have to disclose their illness to their employer or possible employers. This was a comfort to me after trying to return to the workforce after a 10 1/2 year period of disability. I contacted Social Security and asked for my ticket to work. Under this program you can work for up to five years without losing your benefits or medicare insurance. If you can not work, your benefits are reinstated without having to re-apply. After living on the $ 533.00 a month check it was like a godsend to me.

The one thing that did not occur to me was that most employers now require a drug screen. So after filling out the application I was surprised when the next step was to take the drug screen. Many of my medications show up as opiates, amoxicillin that I require often for respiatory infections due to COPD gives a false positive for cocaine, and wellbutrin also shows up in even a routine test. After the test I spoke again with the person who was to be my supervisor. The interview had gone so well we had even decided on a salary and were I was going to be assigned. After the screen her attitude changed so drastically I knew something was up. Is something wrong I asked?? Well your screen came back with several positives...Uh oh. I knew that I had to explain and give up my safely guarded secret. I watched her face as I explained that I suffer form bipolar disorder and Borderline personality among the entourage of co-morbid conditions. She was quite, observing me as i tried to explain. "Well, I'll be in touch?? Hadn't we already decided I would start the following week. That was when I realized the catch 22 involved in the decision to disclose or not to disclose.

I am usually very careful about who  I disclose to and when. In employment I usually don't do it until I am on stable ground and have proven myself by completeling the probation period. Only 2 or three of my friends know and my fellow hubbers and fans who many suffer the same as I. I have found some employers that will make accommodations for me such as letting me come in at a later hour since I am not a morning person, or even letting me work from home when I am unable to pull myself out of bed in the stages of depression. But I have also encountered some who are actually scared of me or uncomfortable in my presence or who want to delve into the personal aspects of my illness.

I would usually reccommend waiting a little while to disclose but if the company requires a drug screen and it is on the same day, it will give you away. If you know ahead of time. you could stop your medications for a few days which I do not reccommend due to the chance of relapse. No job is that important. It can be a very hard decision to make and thought through clearly before deciding.

Remember that according to Federal law, you do not have to disclose your illness, but with the drug screen I have found it almost impossible to hide. The employer also can not refuse to hire you because of your disability, but they can always find another reason, especially in a at will employment state.

With this in mind know that, the law that is supposed to protect us from discrimination is full of holes and you should think carefully about whether you disclose or not.


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    • Tammy Lochmann profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 7 years ago

      Hey Chris, just a heads up. Write down all the medications you take on the health screen form and then they can't question you about it later as it isn't a surprise. Most people don't know what most of the drugs are anyway. They can't discriminate if you are up front and just list the medications you take without being asked to do so. Some people have to take a lot of medications for a lot of different reasons. They wouldn't discriminate against an organ transplant recipient, so what's the difference?

      Take care and good luck my friend.

    • Sage Williams profile image

      Sage Williams 7 years ago

      Wow, A very informative and well written hub. Thanks so much for writing and sharing. I was not aware of so much that you have written about.

      You did a great job in writing this hub.