To Tell or Not To Tell

I’m an advocate for OCD awareness. I believe obsessive-compulsive disorder needs to be talked about, openly and honestly, so that we can foster understanding and acceptance. Silence is not an option and only serves to perpetuate the ignorance and confusion that already surrounds this mental health disorder.

So when Dan was filling out employment applications, and they asked if he had any “medical conditions,” what do you think I advised  him to do?

Lie, of course.

No question about it. I’m a hypocrite, and the first to admit it. But as I’ve said before, OCD is messy, and it’s a lot easier to write about my thoughts and feelings than to actually carry out my own advice. I, like everyone else, am a work in progress.

The reason I gave Dan this advice (and I am not going to address the fact of whether he took it or not) is that I thought, rightly or not, that once the employer saw “OCD” on Dan’s application, he would not even be considered for the job. Who knows? That may or may not be true. Maybe the employer has OCD and Dan reporting it would be a plus?!  So I realize that while I have no problem talking about OCD and advocating for awareness when I know I’m dealing with people who are already accepting of the disorder (sufferers, those who care about someone with OCD, health professionals), it is much more difficult, and scary, to be open and honest when you have no idea who you are dealing with or what their reaction will be.

Back to the application. I was surprised to even see this question as I believe, because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is illegal to ask about health conditions in a pre-employment application. However, I know this law is complicated, and I am far from an expert. In fact, I am just learning about how it affects those with OCD in the workplace. Because my son has been in college for the past five years, my interest and knowledge of the ADA has always focused  on disabilities within the higher education system. I have so much to learn!

I’d love to hear from those with OCD in the workforce and how they have handled this issue. Does your employer know you have OCD?  Do you feel you have been treated fairly (or unfairly)? Any advice for those with OCD who may be entering, or considering entering, the workforce? Insight from those who have “been there” is invaluable.

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25 Responses to To Tell or Not To Tell

  1. Jennifer Hedberg says:

    My daughter is starting kindergarten. I am struggling with wether or not to tell the teachers. Her OCD isn’t overwhelming or obvious. There are some things that pop up that would seem odd to people, so I am not sure if I should bring it up or wait till it pops up?..

    • ocdtalk says:

      Does she have a therapist? Someone who could sit down with the teachers and explain about OCD so that they know how to best help her? To me that would be the benefit of telling….whatever you feel would be most helpful for your daughter.

    • ocd8 says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      As a parent I can fully understand the struggle you are going through. As an individual whose OCD was extremely severe I would like to share my thoughts regarding this issue. Before you talk to any teacher or counselor at your daughter’s school I would recommend that you make an appointment with a top rated psychiatrist. Find a psychiatrist that specializes in treating children. They will be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis, as well as, recommending a child psychologist if therapy is needed.

      You will then have the correct information, resources and a support group (for you and your daughter) to formulate a plan. Now you can sit down and make a game plan that fits your daughter’s needs. If it’s possible, try to include your daughter with this game plan…even on a small scale. The more communication and understanding about OCD will be extremely beneficial for her now and in the future.

      You stated that you her OCD isn’t overwhelming or obvious. I can remember having OCD at age 5 and I hid it from everybody, especially my parents. I finally told them about it when I was 27. I bring this to your attention because it may seem that your daughter’s OCD isn’t overwhelming to you or others, but to her it maybe completely opposite. One of the tricks that people who suffer from OCD is how to keep their “secret” extremely well hidden. Believe me, I mastered this skill.

      It is wonderful to hear about parents such as yourself who want to find out how to tackle this disorder head on. You are your daughter’s greatest advocate. Big kudos to you for caring so much!

      I hope you find my words helpful.

      Steve Albert

      • ocdtalk says:

        Steve, Thank you so much for your excellent advice. I especially appreciate your observation that those with OCD can be masters at hiding their disorder……..I know my son was. Thanks again for your insight; I’m sure it will help Jennifer, as well as many others.

  2. Jennifer Hedberg says:

    But if it was a job application and the OCD won’t affect your sons performqnce I would not put it on the application. People have many different types of issues that could in theory affect their job performance, but they don’t put it on an application.

    • ocdtalk says:

      That’s a good point, Jennifer. Also, all kinds of issues can develop that might not exist when filling out the application…….issues that do, or do not, effect job performance. Thanks for commenting!

  3. 71 & Sunny says:

    Hard question! I honestly don’t know what I would do. I’m a homemaker now (I love that title – especially ’cause I’m such a lousy homemaker ha ha). I think Jennifer makes a good point – if the OCD doesn’t affect the job, then I guess it doesn’t need to go on there. Because of my OCD I always worry about getting “in trouble.” Whatever that means. I would feel so incredibly guilty about not putting it down and worried that I would “get in trouble” for it. I truly don’t know what I would do in this situation. Ugh. Just another way that OCD messes with us!

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for commenting, Sunny! Yes, I thought about “getting into trouble,” but probably not as much as you :). I was thinking more along the lines of an issue arising down the road and the employer saying, “Well, why didn’t you tell me?” You’re right, it’s not easy!

  4. Janet, This is a tough issue. Did the application say something to the effect of “do you have medical conditions that would interfere with you being able to do the job”? I am not sure of the legality of that question beyond asking if there’s anything that would interfere with you being able to perform your job duties, and I don’t know at what point in the job application it’s OK to ask.

    I’ve never put any medical conditions on an application (I can’t remember if I’ve ever been asked that beyond is there anything to keep me from performing duties). My boss knows I have OCD and depression, because I told him when I had to start seeing my therapist once a week, and I needed time off to go. So far I haven’t seen any repercussions from that.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Tina, the actual wording is: “Do you have any medical conditions, physical disabilities, or allergies?” The question is required and then you have the option to “explain.”

      From what I’ve read, I really don’t think it’s legal, and was very surprised to see it on the application.

  5. Jackie says:

    I originally didn’t tell my supervisor about my OCD because I thought I’d get the sympathy card played– “Oh, that is too much for you to handle; let me have someone help with that.” When I finally did share, let me tell you, that has not happened at all.

    I have an interview today and might tell them up front because I think that having OCD plus being an achiever combines to show that I am an intense, hard worker who wants things done well and right! (Plus, usually the interviewer won’t know any details of the OCD except for how the person is acting in the interview, which is probably perfectly normal!)

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks, Jackie! Everyone seems to handle this issue differently, and that just shows it’s important to figure what works for each individual. Good luck on your interview!

  6. I forgot to mention in above comment–my post set for tomorrow is going to talk about when to tell, though not in a job scenario. We must be thinking along the same track! 🙂

  7. krystallynn says:

    Wow, super surprised that question was on the application. Maybe it depends on the state the company is based out of, but I know that was a no-no for Texas and because of the ADA would think it was Federal Law. Before interviewing prospective employees the HR Dept of our company had me attend Equal Opportunity Employer Seminars given by the State. Not only could the medical questions not be a part of the application (except as Tina above listed, for instance they had to be capable of lifting 30 pounds and ascending and descending the ship’s ladders) if they started talking about a disability we were to stop them and let them know that we did not discriminate based on health/medical conditions or disability. So I am shocked. (It was ok to list the physical demands of the job and let them know they would have to submit to a company physical and drug screen. )
    I don’t think you are a hypocrite at all.. I don’t think I have to share my OCD with everyone to be a honest person, if I had cancer I may not want everyone to know that either. We are entitled to personal privacy, if you so desire to share I think that is fine also.
    Because I have OCD I might consider it a bonus trait in an employee, but I don’t think your son has to acknowledge it at all. Especially since I think the question is illegal to begin with.

  8. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for the info on the ADA, Krystallynn, and also for the kind words. I agree with everything you say; we are entitled to our privacy. Why do so many of us feel that because someone asks a question, we are obligated to respond?

  9. My vote is… Not to tell. While there are now more than ever many people coming forward with there stories of OCD. There is still a large amount of headway to make with the general public understanding as to what OCD is and most importantly what OCD ISN’T. I completely understand your feeling like a hypocrite, I am struggling with that feeling myself…I hope to write a post about that soon and I hope everyone will help me figure out what to do.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for your opinion…..I think everyone’s reasons for telling or not telling have been valid. It’s such an individual decision. I totally agree the general public has a long way to go in their understanding of the disorder. Thanks for commenting!

  10. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Mostly yes for me. Why?

    Might find out anyway and that would not be good. And what does that say about my honesty.

    Would not want to work at a place asking for that kind of information unless it was for positive reasons.

    Some federal mental health programs want to hire more people with dx. As Krystallynn noted some would consider it a plus.

    When I hire secretaries I would prefer a OCD type personality. I hired the best of the best because I saw the inside of her purse and it was perfectly organized, impressed me.

    The above said I think asking about dx is the equivalent of asking a young woman if she plans to have a baby soon. Big “No.” And to have to put it in writing? A bigger “No.”

    Hypocritical or careful? I think careful.


    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for weighing in, Kat……..all good points! Certainly if someone decides not to tell and then worries constantly about being “found out,” that’s not a good situation. Again, it’s such an individual thing…..and I agree, it’s a question that should not even be asked.

  11. This is such a tough, albeit fascinating issue. I think it’s particularly difficult for young people who are just starting out in the workplace or don’t have much of a track record and feel the potential employer is likely to view them as an unproven entity. Many of the young people I interviewed for my book about coming of age taking psychiatric meds (Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up were hesitant about revealing such information to an employer. To be honest, so was I before I wrote a book discussing a bit of my own experience and began to blog about this topic of young people and psychiatric meds at Psych Central. I think it’s different once you already have the job and have had a chance to prove yourself. But in this tenuous job market, few people want to be a hero and be the one to make a statement about stigma by disclosing their conditions, let alone whether they take medication for such a condition.

  12. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for commenting, Kaitlin. You make a lot of good points about young people starting out in the workplace. They are so new to the world of work also…’s important for them (actually for all of us) to know what we are required to disclose legally. I could imagine a lot of young people thinking. “Well, if they’re asking, that must mean I have to tell them.” Thanks again for your insights!

  13. Rhonda says:

    Being a mom with a 17yo with OCD, I see OCD like cancer – you are either in treatment or remission. If you are in remission, is that a physical disability or medical condition? My son is in remission; his therapist told me there was no need to even let his camp counselor know he has OCD. On the other hand, I wanted him to volunteer at our local hospital and he had no other reference to give besides his therapist, so I told the hosptial supervisor his reference would come from his OCD therapist. She has been super in working with him, never mentioned to him that she even was aware, and told me yesterday what a fantastic job he was doing. In this example, he impressed her so much as a person that the OCD was a non-issue.

  14. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for the comment, Rhonda. I’m so glad your son is doing so well and he has such a supportive supervisor. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone were like her!

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