On May 31, 2019, we shared preliminary Phase 1 interview findings at the 19th European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology annual congress. The title of our presentation was “An Exploration of Why and How Employees Disclose Having a Mental Illness.” Here are a few take-aways:
- The reasons why people decide to disclose and conceal are more nuanced than what previous research has suggested. Some reasons have to do with individuals’ personal motives (needs or goals), while others have to do with circumstantial factors largely outside of the individuals’ control that increase the likelihood of disclosing or concealing.
- Examples of personal motives for disclosing include managing others’ perceptions, justifying a request for accommodation, nurturing relationships with valued others, and being more authentic.
- Examples of circumstantial factors eliciting disclosure include visible manifestations of one’s mental illness, someone inquiring into one’s well-being, cues provided by another person that he/she would be open to (comfortable) discussing mental illness.
- Examples of personal motives for concealing include self-protection from others, not wanting to burden others, and avoiding a constant focus on one’s mental health.
- Examples of circumstantial factors eliciting concealment include cues that others would be judgmental or even punitive if they knew about one’s mental illness, cues that others would not be inclined to (or know how to) be supportive, the person to whom one could disclose actually contributed to one’s mental illness (such as an abusive manager or coworker), and an absence of close relationships at work.
- People can disclose in various ways, from subtle signalling (“I have rough days”) to more explicit revelations, such as sharing one’s medical diagnosis and/or saying that one is taking antidepressants.
- Similarly, people can conceal in various ways, such as remaining vague (“I’m feeling sick”), faking symptoms of physical illness (like exaggerated coughing), and deflecting a conversation on mental illness.
A copy of the presentation slides can be found using the following link: The How and Why of Disclosure and Concealment.