3 Reasons I Disclosed My Mental Illness When Applying for Jobs
The “Great Resignation” has me reflecting on the 10 years I spent working for nonprofits, universities and corporate America. A good portion of that decade involved job searching while living with multiple mental health challenges (I live with generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder).
The job search is filled with uncertainty, stress and countless decisions. For those of us living with mental health challenges, one of the decisions we must make is if — and when — we will “come out” as someone with a mental health challenge.
As a career coach who is open about their multiple mental health challenges, I am often asked how I navigated self-disclosure while job searching. More often than not, I disclosed my mental health challenges in my cover letter and resume, as well as during the job interview.
While there is no one way to share your mental challenge when job searching, here is why I chose to self-disclose during the job search.
1. I sought companies that aligned with my values.
First, I only wanted to work with companies that aligned with my belief we should be able to show up as our authentic selves at work. I value organizations that believe diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are critical to carrying out their work.
Sharing my mental health challenges early in the application and job interview process helped weed out those organizations that were not in alignment with my values and beliefs. Furthermore, by bringing up mental health, I was able to get a sense of how organizations, and my future supervisors and colleagues, handled sensitive conversations and approach inclusivity and belonging in the workplace.
This being said, I recognize I had the privilege to be picky with the companies and positions I targeted. I was able to cross companies off my list that were unwelcoming to people with mental health challenges. If I was really in need of a job, I am unsure if I would have been as open with my mental health challenges. I am fully aware it is a luxury to be radically honest.
2. My mental health challenges were a competitive advantage.
Next, rather than approach self-disclosure as a deficit, I viewed it as an opportunity to stand out in the saturated job market. While being careful not to engage in trauma porn, I self-disclosed my mental health challenges in my cover letter, resumes and interviews. Additionally, I openly spoke about my experiences with self-disclosing, stigma and mental health therapy during my interview.
I also connected the dots between my mental health challenges and the organization or position. When I interviewed with a mental health nonprofit, for example, I highlighted how I was drawn to the mission because of my mental health journey. Later, when I interviewed with a university, I spoke to how my lived experiences would allow me to better support the “students of concern” I would advise in my role. I received job offers from both of these organizations.
3. I wanted to reduce mental health stigma for future job seekers.
Finally, I chose to disclose my mental health challenges while actively job searching because my goal is to help cure the stigma associated with living mental health challenges. Those of us living with mental health challenges are your supervisors, colleagues, family and friends.
I am fighting against mental health stigma by proudly sharing my mental health challenge. Moreover, I am normalizing conversations about mental health in the workplace. I envision a day where we unconditionally accept the diversity of all people.
I am no longer job searching as I now run my career coaching company full-time. I repeatedly remind my career coaching clients there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to disclosing your mental health in the job search. The key is to find what works for you. You’ve got this!
Original photo by author