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Patterns and Correlates of Workplace Disclosure Among Professionals and Managers with Psychiatric Conditions

Ellison, M.L., Russinova, Z., MacDonald-Wilson, K.L., & Lyass, A. (2003). Patterns and correlates of workplace disclosure among professionals and managers with psychiatric conditions. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 18(1), 3-13.

Article Summary

On-the-job disclosure of a mental health disability may provide a person protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or help a person to secure employment assistance through vocational rehabilitation agencies. However, certain risks including discrimination in the hiring process, stigmatization on the job, and lack of opportunity for promotions may also result from disclosure. Studies have shown that job applicants who disclose a psychiatric disability are less highly rated by interviewers and therefore less likely to be hired. The current study was designed to gather information on the occurrence of disclosure, the timing of disclosure, the circumstances leading to disclosure, the objects of disclosure, and any regrets about disclosure for professionals and managers with psychiatric disabilities.

Of the 350 persons participating in the study, 86.6% indicated that they had disclosed their psychiatric condition. Of the 303 individuals who had disclosed at work, 33.3% disclosed when applying for the job and another 16.5% shared this information within the first year of employment. Individuals with psychiatric disabilities were more likely to tell supervisors (80.1%) and co-workers (72.9%) than human relations personnel (28.1%) and customers (34%), in the case of those who were self-employed.

Approximately half (50.5%) of those who disclosed did so as a result of an "unfavorable circumstance" such as experiencing symptoms and/or psychiatric hospitalization while on the job. The other half of this group disclosed information, because they felt comfortable doing so (38%); thought that their employment was secure (31.7%); or believed that disclosure would not lead to negative consequences (29%). Some 60.7% of the respondents had no regrets about sharing information regarding their psychiatric condition.

Forty-seven participants had not disclosed; and of these, more than half (57.4%) did not plan to disclose at any time. The majority of those who had not disclosed information were concerned that doing so would lead to some sort of on-the-job problems for them, be they related to work evaluations, promotions, or becoming the subjects of gossip or other unwanted differential treatment.

The authors indicate their study provides some of the first data from a large sample of professionals with psychiatric conditions. The relatively high rate of disclosure (86.6%) was contrary to both their hypothesis and to prior studies using smaller samples. This may be of particular interest because as professionals, the respondents had not gotten their jobs as a result of supported employment, which may have included some degree of disclosure. However, it may be misleading to consider all of the disclosure to be voluntary since half of the participants did so as a result of unfavorable circumstances. Therefore, it is difficult to know how many would have done so on their own volition in the absence of such circumstances. This and other questions point the way to future research on mental health conditions and employment practices.