Disclose mental illness to HR?

Hi everyone,

I hope that this post will keep me sufficiently anonymous. I'm starting as an investment banking analyst at a top BB in a few weeks (not in a US office). I'm really excited to start the job, and I think I will really thrive there, but there's a catch: I've had to push my start date back due to a hospitalization.

I spoke to HR and said that I was hospitalized, and they were more than ready to push back my start date. However, they insisted that I tell them what was going on, and when I said that I wasn't comfortable, they threatened to escalate the matter. I don't want my bosses knowing my condition, which could happen is they escalate. So now I'm trying to figure out what to say.

My diagnosis is bipolar disorder, and on the right medication, I am quite stable - I have some blips but I can get on with my life and work effectively. However, when my meds are changed to less powerful ones, I relapse - my most recent episode involved visual and audio hallucinations, paranoia, some delusions of grandeur, all superimposed on manic symptoms. Scary stuff.

I'm not sure how much I should disclose to HR, if anything. On one hand, if for some horrible reason I relapse (which is very unlikely on my current medication), I don't want people to be thinking I'm on crack because I'm speaking at a million miles and hour and jumping from idea to idea or that I'm antisocial because I feel too depressed to talk. I also will need allowances to go to psychiatrist appointments every now and then, even when I'm stable. However, I am keenly aware of the stigma that mental health holds, and I would hate for disclosure to influence my career. HR said anything I tell them will stay within HR, but I'm even worried that them knowing will influence the opportunities that I have. At the same time though, maybe having HR on side would help me get any allowances that I need.

Does anyone have any advice? Any suggestions at all would be welcomed from people in the industry (dealing with mental health issues or not) as I'm hearing mixed messages from my doctors, nurses and friends.

Comments (36)

Best Response
Feb 3, 2016

Talk to an employment lawyer. I don't think many, if any, posters here can give you an appropriate course of action.

Feb 3, 2016

Yes, talk to an attorney ASAP. It may not be as simple as disclosing vs not, they can help you frame language, maintain a proper document trail, etc. They can also clarify what your rights are vs where you have to be very careful (time away from work, etc). If things escalate to a point where you have to litigate this could all be extremely important. I have a long family history with similar issues (not me personally, but close enough that I know the details) and you do not want to be underprepared in this situation.

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Feb 4, 2016

Definitely try to make sure your bosses don't find out. Senior bankers are not exactly the most open-mind bunch. Try to feed HR some bs and hope they go away

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Feb 4, 2016

I'll look for someone with legal experience. I've been doing my own research and have found conflicting documents. Some state that you don't need to disclose, but others state that you need to disclose if your illness provides a safety issue. Two of the examples they have of this are being too elevated to work accurately (tick) and being psychotic (tick). I'm wondering if I can just disclose some of the symptoms rather than the disorder, but I don't know if that's any better.

I know no one here is a lawyer, but other suggestions or opinions would be welcome! I am very, very conflicted.

Feb 4, 2016

Not a lawyer, but HIPPA is rock solid. There's no way they're finding out on their own, so you can give them any excuse in the book (and probably should unless it's a huge issue and will need ongoing treatment).

However, you'd probably be opening yourself to liability if you did end up doing anything ridiculous.

I'd contact a lawyer to be sure.

Feb 4, 2016

I agree with Hippa confidentiality. My wife is a nurse and she cant even say Hello to a patient in the grocery store. And contact the employment attorney for advice. Make up some bullshit excuse like gout or belly aches or appendix, etc.

Ted Turner, Winston Churchill and a bunch of other super people are/were bi-polar so it's not a knock-out, just something you need to deal with.

I've lost 5 (five!!!) friends to SUICIDE and they were bi-polar. I'm attracted to nutty manic types. Your diagnosis is super serious shit. NEVER go off your meds. Your manic phase will tell you "it's alright now" but it';s not, it never is. Put meds and treatment above EVERYTHING else. Proper treatment will help you keep a career, though you may lose a job. Help you keep a marriage, thought it may cost you a girlfriend.

You cannot take this too seriously.

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Jun 1, 2019

Second this

Feb 4, 2016

To be honest, being an investment banker is not the best career choice for someone that's bipolar...

I would urge you to reconsider!!!

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Jun 1, 2019

This is just false

Jun 2, 2019

Why? Do you have any experience in this industry? The analyst grind crushes everyone, I've seen a lot of kids get depressed with the IB work life balance.

I'm not saying bipolar people shouldn't have this job but they should seriously consider it. Nothing is more important than your health.

Feb 4, 2016

First off, are you a US Citizen? If you are, HIPAA may not apply here but other protections, such as the ADA, might cover you. There are a whole slew of questions that I could ask to determine it but it's futile. You're in a foreign office, so find an attorney that handles employment law specifically for the country the office is located in and has dealing with Ex-Pat issues if you are an American abroad. IF you're not a US Citizen, disregard that last bit and find a local attorney who knows employment laws. Your medical privacy is a big deal and many countries have laws in place to protect it.

Either way, speak to a lawyer so you don't get fucked by this.

Feb 4, 2016

Can you present proof that you really were hospitalized and just present that?

Feb 4, 2016

You have enough good advice above.

I just want to ask, didn't your medications show up in your drug test you did for employment? Based on what you're saying I'm assuming you didn't list these as any existing medications so I'd assume there would be a red flag on the urine sample...

Just curious.

Feb 4, 2016

HR are not going to tell your future boss your mentality ill.

Feb 4, 2016

Not a US citizen, so HIPPA doesn't apply. No drug test, so medications don't show up. I don't think they test for them anyway - what harm would it be if someone was taking lithium and antipsychotics? The only thing that might be tested is benzos, but I only take them PRN so I take them very rarely.

HR won't just take the fact that I was hospitalized. I made it very, very clear I was not going to discuss my condition but they kept on threatening me about escalating the matter. I told them I'd had a problem with medication and then they were like, you were taking medication and you need to tell us why. I'm worried that even if I don't have an obligation to tell them, saying nothing would damage my reputation with HR and the business before I even start. Some people have suggested that I say I have depression (have previously been depressed) or that I have anxiety (have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder). That said, I'm not sure if saying I was hospitalized for either of those is any better.

I know that IBD is hard. I know that the sleep deprivation will be difficult. But I'm very high functioning so I think it'll be fine. This is what I want to do, and if I screw up big time, then at least I've tried. I have back up plans in place.

I know how serious bipolar is, especially when unmedicated. I have been hospitalized for suicide attempts. I have been a danger to myself and others while manic. I have had very unhealthy coping strategies. But honestly, on medication and after all the therapy I've had, I'm doing pretty well. I just want to be given the same chance in life to do what I want to do, instead of my mental health holding me back from my aspirations.

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Feb 5, 2016
confusedanalyst:

I know that IBD is hard. I know that the sleep deprivation will be difficult. But I'm very high functioning so I think it'll be fine. This is what I want to do, and if I screw up big time, then at least I've tried. I have back up plans in place.

Solid attitude & good advice above.

Good lawyer from the get-go + solid paper trail. Tell HR whatever your legal advisor says you should. HR are not on your side. My bet is that any BB's HR department would tread carefully if they know you have legal representation as being shit on about discrimination doesn't look great for the brand.

In your shoes I wouldn't disclose to any boss, limited upside. Location does impact this, as stigma toward mental health differs. As in, I'd take a different tact in Sweden Vs. Saudi Arabia.

Feb 4, 2016

Two things:

1) None of us can give you good advice since you're outside the U.S. You need to consult with a local lawyer that specializes in employment law. Your rights will vary significantly depending upon where you are. Don't listen to anybody's legal advice on here, full stop.

2) You should seriously reconsider doing IBD. No job is worth your health or life. I can't imagine your condition getting better with the stress of a IB career.

Feb 5, 2016
models_and_bottles:

Two things:

1) None of us can give you good advice since you're outside the U.S. You need to consult with a local lawyer that specializes in employment law. Your rights will vary significantly depending upon where you are. Don't listen to anybody's legal advice on here, full stop.

2) You should seriously reconsider doing IBD. No job is worth your health or life. I can't imagine your condition getting better with the stress of a IB career.

This is good advice.

I went to high school with a guy who worked in IBD in NYC and ended up committing suicide (supposedly for work-related reasons). In any job, IBD or not, when working extremely long hours for consecutive nights on end, it it can majorly fck with even the most sane person's mental state. I would caution you to never put work above your personal well-being.

Good luck, man. I hope it works it.

Feb 4, 2016

As others have said, you need to talk to a local lawyer or you may even be able to contact a government agency to ask (in the US you'd contact your state's labor department or the US Dept of Labor). No one on here can give you any advice because we don't know what country you're in and even if you did tell us most of us aren't labor lawyers in you country.

Outside of the legality of it, personally I think it's fucked up that HR is pressing the issue that much and making you tell them or they'll "escalate" it, whatever that means.

Feb 4, 2016

Whatever you do just remember that HR is not your friend. HR's responsibility is to do what's best for the company, not you.

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Feb 4, 2016

I don't really have anything to add to the conversation. I don't have any personal experience with bipolar disorder. I just wanted to let you know that I'm pulling for you and that I wish you the best. That's an extremely difficult hand to be dealt, and good on you for fighting as hard as you are. Keep it up. Feel free to reach out for any finance-related career advice.

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Feb 5, 2016

Legal advice sounds like the best way to go. There's a slight problem though - I'm actually still in hospital (I know, internet in a psych ward?), and my call with HR is scheduled in the middle of next week. I might not have enough time to consult a lawyer before the call because I won't be discharged, and in that case, may consult one after making the call to talk about how to proceed in the future. I understand that this is far from ideal and will do my best to get legal advice soon. Whatever way the chips fall, does anyone have any suggestions about how to imply to HR that I'm seeking legal advice even if I haven't yet met with a lawyer?

There is no way in hell that I would want my bosses to find out. I told a supervisor at university and he was thoroughly unsupportive of me, so I've learned my lesson. I think that I can do really well in banking despite my diagnosis. I gunned my summer internship and was told I was the hardest working intern (at a different bank though, unfortunately), I worked three part time jobs at university whilst maintaining great grades, being president of multiple clubs and having a vibrant social life and even when I was on a horrible medication cocktail that turned me into a zombie (thanks, Zyprexa), I obtained perfect marks in all of my classes at a top target, running at least 5 miles a day (not huge, but something!) with a lot of time to spare for social purposes. Despite having bipolar, I think I've done pretty well for myself. And I think that I can push through to do well in banking, as I've done at college, during my internship, and during another six month period of work that followed.

This is unbelievably bad timing - I haven't had a major episode in over a year. Why I let my doctor change my meds a month before starting work, I do not know. Medication is powerful - it might not seem like it when everything's going well, but even small perturbations can cause huge upsets. Proceed with caution.

Feb 5, 2016

Legal advice sounds like the best way to go. There's a slight problem though - I'm actually still in hospital (I know, internet in a psych ward?), and my call with HR is scheduled in the middle of next week. I might not have enough time to consult a lawyer before the call because I won't be discharged,

Schedule a consultation with a lawyer over the phone or have the lawyer come visit you. If you have some friends or family that are helping you have them assist you with this. If nothing else, you should be able to find a lawyer over the internet and set up a consultation by phone.

Whatever way the chips fall, does anyone have any suggestions about how to imply to HR that I'm seeking legal advice even if I haven't yet met with a lawyer?

You really need to get advice before the call. Set up a consultation today.

Assuming you can't get that done, which really there is no excuse not to, you need to lay out the facts to HR in the least threatening manner possible. It goes something like this:
- I have had a serious medical emergency and am hospitalized
- I can provide you a written note from my admitting doctor confirming that I am hospitalized and my expected discharge date (if known)
- if the doctor expects you to make a full recovery, have him/her state that in the letter

Don't offer any additional information. If they press you on the nature of your problem, tell them that's private information and you're not willing to give it out. If they bloviate about "escalating it" let them talk. Put the ball in their court until you have good legal advice.

Feb 5, 2016

Realistically, if you don't have the time to consult a lawyer then you need to do what's best for you. There's no beating around the bush: You need to make something up.. You felt dizzy, you got sick, you tripped on a banana peel, something. (Keep in mind you might have to substantiate w\e you chose later,) This is gonna sound terrible but I can't imagine that admission of something like a mental illness would go over well in a company that's not based in the US (You'd probably have a million outlets\support groups) if you found yourself in that predicament here.

Really hope it works out for you.

Feb 5, 2016

It's a US company in a country that probably has better antidiscrimination laws than the US. I'm lucky in that regard, but there's also more of an onus to disclose the medical condition here than what there was in the US. I used to live in the US, and I found it easier to keep my diagnosis quiet while I was over there, despite being far more symptomatic than I've been here.

One complication someone told me was that I'm on probation for the first few months. If HR is concerned that I'm being evasive and that I'm hiding something big, they can fire me, no questions asked. If I disclose some of what's going on, they know, and they can fire me. It's a lose-lose situation. Unfortunately I already told them I was in hospital for a medication change (naively thought they'd back off - troubleshooted it in conversations with psychologists and they thought it was fine, but I guess not), and they started grilling me on why I was on medication. The only physical condition I can think of where medication is so variable is epilepsy (same drugs are used for bipolar, actually), and I don't think that's all too much better. Will try and think of more ideas.

Thanks everyone for the support! I really didn't envisage beginning my career like this, but life happens and all you can do is try to make the best of the situation.

Feb 5, 2016
confusedanalyst:

It's a US company in a country that probably has better antidiscrimination laws than the US. I'm lucky in that regard, but there's also more of an onus to disclose the medical condition here than what there was in the US. I used to live in the US, and I found it easier to keep my diagnosis quiet while I was over there, despite being far more symptomatic than I've been here.

One complication someone told me was that I'm on probation for the first few months. If HR is concerned that I'm being evasive and that I'm hiding something big, they can fire me, no questions asked. If I disclose some of what's going on, they know, and they can fire me. It's a lose-lose situation. Unfortunately I already told them I was in hospital for a medication change (naively thought they'd back off - troubleshooted it in conversations with psychologists and they thought it was fine, but I guess not), and they started grilling me on why I was on medication. The only physical condition I can think of where medication is so variable is epilepsy (same drugs are used for bipolar, actually), and I don't think that's all too much better. Will try and think of more ideas.

Thanks everyone for the support! I really didn't envisage beginning my career like this, but life happens and all you can do is try to make the best of the situation.

Epilepsy sounds way better, I'd go with that if you have nothing else.

Feb 9, 2016

This sounds like an awful situation; just want to wish you the best of luck.

Can you be hospitalized for some type of migraines? That's something people usually understand is bad and don't ask too many questions about.

Just to contrast your experience with an advisor in college - I ended up telling a professor about my anxiety after she questioned why my grades were so low when I was so active in class and she was extremely sympathetic.

In your situation though, I'm not sure anxiety/depression would work, as it would have to be to the extreme level of needing to be hospitalized.

Can they actually check what your condition is?

Feb 10, 2016

Update: spoke to HR, described some of my symptoms, said that it had been suggested that my symptoms might align with a mood disorder, and left it at that. HR was cool with it. What a relief!

Feb 10, 2016

I'm hypomanic.

I told my boss. He understood I'd go see a psychiatrist a couple times a month to not go full blown mania. But then again I'm not in a conservative field or company. Your's is a bit stronger and more conservative.

Get a lawyer. Don't tell HR a reason and cite HIPPA but if you can produce verification of time in the 'hospital' without distinguishing it as mental related I'd do that.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

Feb 10, 2016

Enjoy the hypo while it lasts! Probably the best mood state to be in. Hypomania is so addictive.

I already spoke to HR and said that my major issue was insomnia. Which is true, because it was my first symptom to emerge and was severe. I mentioned the mood disorder suggestion in an offhand way to cover my bases but I don't even know if they were listening, but in any case, they seemed cool with it and they mentioned several times that I had a guaranteed position with the firm and could change my start date if I wanted. So I think the conversation went about as well as it could have: I didn't lie and open myself up to liability problems, and HR gave me more flexibility with my start date than I'd imagined.

Unfortunately I was hospitalized at a private psychiatric hospital (unlike general, public hospitals where I've been hospitalized in the past) so it's obvious that I was there. However, some people end up there for sleep disorders, so it's not implausible that I was there for insomnia. My intake sheet listed sleep disruptions as one of my major problems.

Feb 11, 2016

I'd swing it on the fact that insomnia caused some mental disruption if they ever come back.

Hypomania is amazing. The lulls suck though. I don't get depressed, just very lethargic and very irritable. Good luck man I'm sure you'll figure it out. Seems like its mostly handled.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

Aug 23, 2016
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