Workers’ Perspectives on Workplace Disclosure of Serious Mental Illness and Their Employers’ Responses
Persons with serious mental illness are often reluctant to disclose their disability to an employer because of the intense stigma associated with their illness. Yet, disclosure may be desirable to gain access to employer-provided job accommodations, or to achieve other goals. In this article, we aimed to (1) describe the contexts in which workers in regular employment disclose a mental illness to their employer and (2) describe employer responses to disclosure, as perceived by the workers themselves. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 40 workers, who were currently or formerly employed in a mainstream, regular job, post-onset of mental illness. Workers were asked to describe the circumstances that led to disclosure, and to describe their employers’ responses to disclosure. Conventional content analysis was applied to identify common themes in the transcribed interviews. Analyses revealed five mutually exclusive disclosure contexts: seeking job accommodations, seeking protection, seeking understanding, responding to an employer’s symptom-based inquiries, or being exposed by a third party or event. Analyses also revealed a wider range of employer responses—positive, negative, and ambiguous—than has been suggested by studies in which employers described their reactions to worker disclosure. Some themes were more prevalent among current versus former workers. Overall, the disclosure process appeared to be more complex than has been described by extant frameworks to date, and the linkages between disclosure contexts and employer response themes suggested that many workers did not receive the responses they were seeking from their employers.