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I've been at my current position for less than a year, after having taken some time off to go back to school and get in a new career path.

I've lived with various mental health issues (varying degrees of depression, anxiety, PTSD from childhood verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as some abusive relationships in adulthood, and the occasional panic attack) for most of my life. The issues have started to escalate again and are beginning to affect my work to the point where I'm not sure how much I can keep doing my job.

This is my first job in my new field and I'm still in school as well. I'm concerned that leaving or having poor performance due to mental health issues will jeopardize my ability to find work in the future as I'll potentially be losing out on any future good references.

Should I tell my boss about the issues I'm dealing with? I'm too new for FMLA so I don't know what else I can do.

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    Jobs are expendable, mental health is not. – IDDQD Apr 3 at 20:18
  • Maybe it's not a question related for work. Maybe all you need is to talk with someone close to you (family, friend, therapist) and vent off. – jean Apr 3 at 20:18
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    @IDDQD yeah, but you still need to eat. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Apr 3 at 20:19
  • @jean all you need to deal with depression, anxiety, and PTSD is to vent to someone close? – Andy Apr 3 at 20:27
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    I'm in the United States. – ReturningStudent Apr 3 at 20:31
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You need to be very careful in disclosing any information about mental illness beyond "I am going through some stuff right now".

Plenty of people will tell you about all the various and sundry laws protecting people from discrimination, and yes those laws are in fact on the books.

What they don't tell you is just how ineffective they are, or how much effort you need to put in to get them enforced. From first hand experience, I can tell you that this is not good for your mental health.

While a company cannot legally fire you for having mental illness, they can fire you for violating some obscure company policy. The more clever (or evil) companies have managed to deliberately craft some policies that are both vaguely defined, in scope, and consequence, with phrases such as "or at the discretion of..."

Or, in other words, if they want to get rid of you, they can find a way.

FULL DISCLOSURE:

I have Asperger's/autism, and severe panic disorder, and have had what are called "pseudo seizures" due to it.

The more you can keep this out of the workplace, the better for you. If you need to take the occasional day off to get help, or to just regenerate, do it. If you are seeing a counselor or psychiatrist, see about upping the visits, go to more meetings of support groups (there are free ones out there) and do what you need to do to protect your performance.

Even when you are there long enough to qualify for FMLA, try to avoid it, because, again, legally they can't fire you for that, but they can find other reasons.

Now, this may sound contradictory to everything I've said so far, but:

If you think that this is going to start affecting your performance,

GO TO HR BEFORE ANY DIPS IN PERFORMANCE OR OTHER ISSUES ARISE

The various laws do not protect you if you bring up disabilities AFTER disciplinary actions are being taken, and you won't get far.

Sadly, people abuse the system, and if you go to them after issues arise, they will tend to make that assumption.

HR may be able to direct you to additional resources, but make sure you do as much work on your own first

If you need to go to HR, you want to have a long list of things you've tried to do before involving them. Notes from your doctor, any medications you are taking, preventative measures and/or steps you are taking to ameliorate your difficulties, et cet. This will show them the genuine effort that you've put forth and make them more likely to assist you. Again, because of people who game the system, you want to show that you are not one of those people.

Good luck.

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Managers need action items. Telling them "I have a condition, please don't judge my numerous typos/inappropriate comments in meetings/however your issues are affecting your work" is unhelpful. Also, if what you need is something you do not need special accommodation for - say, regular time off and you have vacation days to use, or scheduling meetings on days you project you will be more capable (beginning of the week?) - just do what you need to do without any specific talk. My coworkers have commented about my taking random Wednesdays off of work (I have a stamina disorder and a day off in addition to the weekend is a huge help for me), I just say I like to use my vacation that way, and we all go about our business.

If your employer can do something specific that you need special permission for, a possible approach is "I am unhappy with my performance (as measured by x, y), have done a & b on my own and after evaluating my situation my doctor recommends I [reduce my work weeks to 30 hours] [work on high-mental-demand projects (in the morning)(the first days of the week) and routine projects (in the afternoons)(the last days of the week)]" or whatever action you and your medical provider agree is likely to be beneficial to you. Your selling point is that your work will improve given the accommodation you are requesting, and that being a productive employee is important to you as demonstrated by the routines you implemented on your own and by your seeking medical evaluation to prevent further deterioration and ultimately to regain productivity.

Do not start out volunteering details of your condition, focus on the performance indicators you want to improve and that your medical provider agrees the requested accommodation will help them. If your manager asks for more information, how much you share is a personal judgment that depends on your particular relationship with him or her and with co-workers or other managers who may learn about the shared details once they are out there.

This is a tough situation to be in because of the bias against mental health issues and the difficulty of coming up with action items specific to you and your job position; it is especially a lot of pressure when you are feeling poorly to start off with. I hope these answers at least seed some ideas that end up being helpful for you. Best wishes in getting together a game plan and being successful with both your medical team and your managers and colleagues at work.

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If you could afford it, talking with an employment lawyer would be beneficial. They could instruct you on what not to do as well as what to do. The reason would not be to sue, but to protect yourself and your private medical condition.

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Should I tell my boss about the issues I'm dealing with?

You should check in with your boss about your current performance. You want an accurate assessment of how you're doing in order to decide what to do next and your depression and anxiety may be clouding your judgement.

Whether or not you leave your job, do what you need to do to take care of your mental health. Since you're still in school, see if your school has any resources to help you. If not, and you decide to stay at your job, see if they have an Employee Assistance Program. You should be able to make use of it without informing your boss. At worst you may have to ask HR whether an EAP exists but hopefully you have a way to look up your benefits on your own.

If you decide you need to leave:

You only need to tell your boss you're leaving for personal reasons. Since this will be after the performance discussion, the most you should have to say is that personal issues have affected your work and you've decided it's best to quit in order to deal with them.

Whether you put this job on your resume will depend on how long you were there and what accomplishments you can list. If your school has a decent career center you can go to them for help with this. Just remember that this job is not your one chance at having a career or even the only chance to have a good reference.

If you decide to stay:

  • Have regular check-ins with your boss
  • Keep a log of your accomplishments at work

They're both good ideas anyway but in your case you can use this to check how feel about your work performance compares to how you're actually doing. Even if you're legitimately struggling in some areas you want to avoid exaggerating the problem.

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