December 17, 2012

Every time I look for a new job there's the same battle inside my head. What do I say when I'm asked that question? You know the one. “Do you consider yourself to have a disability?” Or, even after you've got past that stage and have been offered the job there's the medical questionnaire and the need to disclose that, yes, you do have health problems that may affect your ability to work.

I never know what to put. Do I tick the yes box and risk getting the interview based on positive discrimination? Do I tick the “no” box and lie on my application and then risk losing a job when it's been offering for later declaring my illnesses? Or do I just ignore it altogether? Tick the “I’d rather not say” box and continue to deny that there's any issue at all and pretend that I'm not ill?

I'm in the predicament right now. A number of interviews in the pipeline and sitting here wondering at what stage I have to tell someone I have bipolar affective disorder. I never mention the borderline personality disorder bit. That's not what keeps me out of work if it decides to flare up. I've always taken the honesty route when it comes to a medical. I've always told people that I have a bipolar diagnosis and it's led to some awkward questions. “how do you deal with stress?” being a common one.

The most annoying one for me is the “the job is quite stressful, how can we know it won't cause you to get ill?”

The most annoying one for me is the “the job is quite stressful, how can we know it won't cause you to get ill?”. That just shows the underlying confusion behind what bipolar actually is. I can argue until I'm blue in the face that my episodes are not triggered by stress and that's its a chemical issue with my brain and therefore unpredictable. But I'm yet to meet a manager that sees it that way. And the number of times I've had to be risk assessed after signing a contract for a new job, well, I’ve lost count.

So I sit here now, waiting on a final stage interview and thinking “oh my god, I’m going to have to go through all that again”. Wondering if I should tell them about it during the interview – not something I've ever done. I want to get a job because I'm good at what I do, and I am, not because I have an illness that classes me as disabled. But it's largely because I fear the reaction. You never know how someone will react when you declare a mental health problem. Especially at my level of management. There's still that huge misconception that those of us with complex mental health problems don't work or are incapable of doing a job that is stressful, mentally challenging or requires you to work outside of the standard 9 – 5 framework.

Should I say something? Should I wait until they offer me the job?

So on top of the stress of trying to find a new job, those of us with a mental health diagnosis have all these questions in our heads before we go to an interview. Should I say something? Should I wait until they offer me the job? Should I just say nothing at all and hope that it never becomes an issue? There is no right answer I don’t think. It's never clear cut.

I have been asked about disabilities at a first stage interview and been honest but now, if I’m not asked, I don’t say anything until they do ask and, inevitably, they do ask. And the reaction is always the same. One of shock because “you look so normal” and one of fear because now it means that I'm unpredictable, emotional and have the potential to need time off work. If people cared to look past this they'd see that I've only ever had 2 weeks off due to my bipolar in my 7 years of work and that I am one of the best people for the job disability or no disability.

Unfortunately, the stigma is still there. When it comes to mental health there's still a big black hole that many employers aren't quite sure how to tackle.

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