When do you go public?

What I like most about writing a blog is that it provides all of us another venue for exchanging ideas.  So I am going to ask for your help and advice.
One of the many questions that Mike and I wrestle with is: When should a person with a mental illness reveal his disorder? 
Should he disclose it on a job application when he is seeking employment?
Should he bring it up during an interview for a job?
On a personal level, when Mike is dating, when should he — if ever – mention it?
I’d like to hear your thoughts about this issue and would especially like to hear stories based on events that happened to you or your family.
Mike scolded me once when I told him that he should not disclose his bipolar diagnosis to a potential employer.
 ”You’re always telling me that I should not be embarrassed or ashamed of having an illness, yet you want me to keep quiet about it,” he said.
“I wish it were different,” I replied, “but stigma is stigma, and you aren’t going to get hired if you mention it without being asked. Tell the truth if asked, but otherwise don’t volunteer it.”
In my book, I describe how frustrated I became when Mike got turned down for a job at a local grocery store — despite having a college degree. I called a friend of mine who is a human relations director at a successful company and asked her for advice. She told me that she sympathized with me, but it really wasn’t about Mike. It was about liability. If  Mike acted out after he was hired and other employees found out that she had hired him knowing that he had a mental illness, then the company could be liable, she explained.  She told me to keep mum.
Disclosure is a serious issue whether it is at work, with friends, or when dating.  I have been contacted by police officers who have told me that their futures would be jeopardized if they disclosed that they had a mental illness. I’ve even had a pilot tell me that he kept his severe depression hidden. Those of us who are old enough, remember how Thomas Eagleton was dumped as a Democratic Vice Presidential candidate after he revealed that he had suffered from depression, was hospitalized, and had undergone shock treatment  Fear keeps us silent. It also increases stigma. 
So please share with me your stories and insights. And don’t forget the flip-side of this issue. How would you feel if your son or daughter told you that she was dating someone with a mental illness?
Maybe your experiences can help others.
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.

  • Jack Thomas

    If you tell someone on the first date that you have a mental illness, that is your last date. If you tell them after they have become involved with you, then they are angry because you didn't tell them earlier. The bottom line is that you have to find someone who doesn't care regardless of whether you tell them at the beginning or end because they can see beyond the illness and realize that you are a tremendous person. That's someone worth dating and knowing.

  • loriwildflowersandweeds

    I know it is difficult to be fully disclosing with mental illness, however if things are ever to get better in this country we must! I, like Mike am no longer ashamed or embarrassed by my bi-polar diagnosis. In fact like Patti Duke, I was relieved when I started to get answers. Knowledge is power. This is key for the public as well. We fear what we do not know. The media has sensationalized mental illness. The things that are reported, written about, publicized, or the movies that are made are always the demonstrative cases. We are not all like that. I assure you many people have mental illnesses and do not know it or will not face it.

    For the betterment of our society, and particularly our posterity because mental illness is hereditary, we must open up and talk about what we are experiencing, and not be afraid. We must get a stronger voice! Maybe then our government will do more for us, our employers will not be so afraid of us and we will not live in fear.

    Mental illness is not something we brought on ourselves, however playing victim to it would be. I do not play victim to it. I would tell anyone that I am bi-polar, if they have a problem with it, that’s on them, I really do not need people like that in my life, I already deal with plenty of negative.
    I take my med's faithfully, I see my doctor(s) responsibly, I learn all I can about my illness and other mental illnesses. I want to know the research that is going on because I have hope that there will be better treatments in the future for myself and anyone that suffers from this horrible disease. But a victim…oh no!

    BTW: I read your book “Crazy” Pete, incredible! My point exactly, those people that you write about in the jails and on the streets are victims without a voice. My mental illness is not to that degree and I have supporting people around me now, since we have become more educated. We will speak out for them…

  • peteearley

    Wow, I couldn't have said it better. Thank you so much for your courage and strength!
    You are an inspiration!

  • spiritual_emergency

    @Pete: How would you feel if your son or daughter told you that she was dating someone with a mental illness?

    My child began to spiral a few years ago. We've done four hospitalizations since then, two suicide attempts, one bout of what looked an awful lot like neuroleptic malignant sydrome, a few bouts of psychosis, an arrest, several months worth of mania, a number of life and death situations and numerous romantic partners. As parents/caregivers we ran into difficulties with most every partner, most frequently because of our terse assertions that they should not smoke pot with them and the natural desires in that age group to demonstrate that they are capable of handling whatever comes up, on their own.

    I was relieved the day I discovered my child had met someone through an online dating service and in the course of the first date discovered they were dating a diagnosed and obviously high-functioning schizophrenic. Bear in mind that I happen to consider schizophrenics as a group to be some of the most sensitive, gifted, wounded and beautiful people I've ever met. After everything we'd been through in the course of the previous years, walking through the door with a schizophrenic individual who understood… that was a relief.

    Meantime, there's no secrets. We — all of us — talk quite openly and candidly about our experiences. There's also no need to educate them about hospitals, the risk of recreational drugs, empathy, pain, suffering, struggle — they know all that already. To their credit, they're very intelligent, accomplished, balanced, goal-directed and nice. The two of them are talking of getting married and I am perfectly fine with that.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it illegal to ask someone if they have a mental illness? How about HIPPA — doesn’t it protect you? Can you sue someone if they ask you and then don’t give you a job? Anyone know?

  • Anonymous

    Hi everyone
    For some reason, the last comment came up under my name — Pete Earley — instead of the person who asked it. Sorry about that! But it is a good question. Anyone want to offer an answer?
    Mike wasn’t asked if he had a mental illness on a job application. He was asked if he had a criminal record and then asked to explain.
    Also, thanks for the comments posted here. I am impressed with the writers’ insights and courage in speaking out.
    Please keep reading.
    Pete

  • Carol

    This topic is of interest to me since my son is currently job-hunting, has been stable for over a year now, and has been diagnosed Bipolar 1. Since he will be visiting over the holiday, I may discuss the topic with him to see how he handles it.

  • Carla

    In our house, mental illness is an open subject. We have educated many people, but only those interested in learning.
    My son is Bi-Polar II, TBI and several other diagnois. People know that their is something different and many stay away. We advise people up front if there is to be a relationship, any type of friendship, but after we know that they accept him as is.
    I have read your book, Crazy, and it helped some in our journey.
    I contacted you about 3 years ago looking for legal help.
    We found what we needed and have moved on. I would like to share our family's experiences and would like your help to proceed.

  • Liz

    Call me naive, but I always hope that honesty is the best policy. If more people talk about it, isn't that the only stigma goes away? Most persons with mental illnesses are more likely to be victimized than to be perpetrators.
    I agree with you that disclosure is necessary only if asked though.

  • Liz

    Call me naive, but I always hope that honesty is the best policy. If more people talk about it, isn't that the only stigma goes away? Most persons with mental illnesses are more likely to be victimized than to be perpetrators.
    I agree with you that disclosure is necessary only if asked though.