Telling Your New Employer About Your Borderline Personality Disorder

Here’s the scenario: you have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and you’ve managed to hook a job. How can you do now to maximize your chances of doing the job and keeping it?

First of all, congratulations — it’s hard out there, doubly so if you’re weighed down by self-doubt or even self-loathing, and your entire mental state is in a constant ever-changing turmoil.

One of the thorniest issues facing anyone with a disability, particularly a non-visible one, when starting a new job is that of disclosure. Should you clue-in your new employer or not? After all, any reasonable adjustments you might need are contingent upon you revealing your condition. Current thinking is that, in general, transparency at the job offer stage is the way to go, unless you need adjustments for the interview stage. If you’re in the UK, for example, this then ensures the employer is aware of your protected status under the Equality Act and all this implies.

The Rethink Mental Illness website puts it like this:

“You may think that your employer needs to know about your mental illness. It is up to you whether to tell them. There are some jobs where you need to tell your employer. This is because of the regulations which cover these jobs. The Equality Act stops most employers asking questions about your health before offering you a job. The employer does not have to make reasonable adjustments if they do not know you have a disability. This applies during the application process or at an interview. At work your employer does not have to make reasonable adjustments for you unless they know about your condition.”

However, for many mental health issues, and particularly personality disorders, it has been suggested recently to me that full disclosure might not be the best idea. Instead, it is probably better to disclose that you have a mental health issue, but not to go into specific details unless they are likely to cause specific difficulties that can be helped by reasonable adjustments. Since the most helpful thing the employer can offer in these circumstances is probably the option for flexible working, you really don’t need to tell them all the gory details of your daily struggle.

An additional benefit of more superficial disclosure is that the credibility of your case for adjustments will not be undermined if your health care professional changes your diagnosis, an all-too-familiar and frequent occurrence in mental health.

It’s a sad fact that, unlike some other forms of disability, mental health issues still attract some pretty strong prejudice and many lay people can find them a bit scary or troublesome to deal with. Employers are human, like everyone else, and public engagement with mental health issues still has a long way to go. The sterling efforts of Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and other UK charities notwithstanding, there is still a culture of suspicion and even fear when it comes to people with mental health problems, despite the rising incidence of such conditions.

Once you have accepted your job offer, it would be a brilliant time to explore the disability support infrastructure your employer offers. This would be something the human resources (HR) department should be able to help with.

In the academic setting with which I am familiar, I would seek out the disability resource/support service and see if they offer support for staff (by no means a universal provision). The place you’re going to work might also have a staff mentoring scheme, a counseling service (invaluable) and, if you’re very fortunate, some form of disabled staff network (DSN), often run by disabled staff themselves, which offers a collective voice and a lot of moral support. The University of Manchester, for example, ticks all these boxes but other employers may tick almost none of them.

Another port of call would be an occupational health service, since they might well have dedicated support in place, especially these days, including links to the clinical psychology community. You’ll be visiting them anyway when you start, so take advantage of this, but please bear in mind that they are not your doctor. In some places, the careers service can also be supportive, since they are often the providers of Dignity at Work cover.

Sometimes, it can be useful to join a Trade Union if available, and they can provide advocates to accompany you to “difficult” meetings. An important thing to remember here is that they can’t help you with work issues that arose before you became a member, so if you’re going to join, join early.

Oh yes, one last thing: unless you’re deeply attached to your home GP, it’s important to get one where you’re going to be living as soon as humanly possible. If you can find out if the practice has a mental health specialist and register with them, so much the better. You need to be able to access medical support quickly. These days, crisis support can be accessed easily, but it’s essential to get local, face-to-face support too. Being local, they will have a better handle on what support is available in the area where you work.

I’m sure I have missed out a great many issues facing newly appointed employees with mental health issues but if you read this and follow the links, you should be well on your way to thriving in your new job with all the support you need to stay, if you want to of course. Good luck!

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Getty Images photo via BartekSzewczyk

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