Mental Health History Confessions
August 20, 2011 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm going for a pre-employment medical in a few days (to test whether there's a risk that a health issue will prevent me from doing my job in the next 3 years). The form wants me to put down whether I've ever suffered from depression or anxiety. What's the threshold for a "yes" answer?

When I was a teenager in high school, I was miserable due to bullying (from students and teachers) and boredom. My parents were also going through an extraordinarily ugly divorce at the same time. I started skipping school and behaving badly and my mum sent me off to a psychiatrist who put me on prozac. It did next to nothing, but I took it on and off for a couple of years. After I escaped from school I realized I never needed it in the first place and stopped taking it. This was all about ten years ago. I don't think that being in a shitty school environment is the same as being medically depressed, and see no reason why I should have to divulge these details of my adolescence on a pre-employment medical.

Flash forward to about four years ago and I was having a conversation with a friend about antidepressants. He was going on about how great zoloft is for concentration when studying, how it helps you avoid procrastination etc. I was curious and so the next time I was at the doctor (about an unrelated thing), I asked for a script, saying I had issues with focus, stress and OCD (I basically made stuff up to get the pills). I took the zoloft for a few weeks, realised it did nothing, and stopped taking it. Should I need to tell this story too?

These are my only two experiences with mental health and doctors. As far as I'm concerned, I've never had any genuine issues. My dilemma is, I'm worried that if I say nothing about it, then one day if I have a physical (non-mental) health issue and try to claim for early retirement or income protection, the superannuation/insurance people will grab hold of my medical records, accuse me of lying about this one little thing, and I'll be stuffed. Alternatively, if I do mention it, then the doctors might tell HR to delay my offer while they request and examine my records, and I'll end up known to HR as a person with a "mental health" history which I actually don't have. Australian in my late 20s.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would be inclined to not mention it at all. However, if you're concerned they might check what you say against your medical records (which seems kind of illegal, but I don't know what kind of releases you've signed), you could mention your past prescription history and note that you were never truly diagnosed with depression. Most teenagers are "depressed" at some point.

I would be more concerned about whatever personality trait it is that you have that made you think "making stuff up to get pills" was a good idea. That seems like a bigger red flag to me than past depression. I would not tell your employer about anything that could sound like drug-seeking behavior.
posted by phunniemee at 10:53 AM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you've never been diagnosed with depression, you don't have to say "yes" on your application. I wouldn't mention the Zoloft thing at all.
posted by patheral at 10:55 AM on August 20, 2011

The form wants me to put down whether I've ever suffered from depression or anxiety.

The answer to that question should always be "no". That question is used to screen you out from possible employment (yes, it's illegal to do so and yes they do it anyway) so your answer should always be "no" if you want the job. Don't explain. Don't provide any information including that you ever took Zoloft. It is extremely unlikely that they will be able to access your private medical records unless this is a position involving a government security clearance in which case you probably should disclose everything.

Those questions are not being asked for your benefit. Do not disclose. It is none of their business.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2011 [11 favorites]

I started skipping school and behaving badly and my mum sent me off to a psychiatrist who put me on prozac.

Sorry, I missed this. I think that anything under the age of 18 doesn't really count. Most employers aren't going to check your pediatric records (I'm pretty sure). Honestly, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by patheral at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2011

P.S. Yes it is true that if you do not disclose your mental health history and then attempt to collect on a mental health claim of some sort from your work medical (as you state that you are worried about) you could be be denied. Probably would be if they got your old medical records and that is not unlikely. If getting the job is more important to you then say "no". If collecting on a future medical mental health claim while on that job is more important to you say "yes"
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:00 AM on August 20, 2011

A defensible standard would be whether you had ever received a diagnosis of clinical depression or similar under, say, the DSM-IV guidelines. If you have never been given such, or don't know that you have been given such, I would shut the hell up about it.

People tend to really hang themselves on pre-employment questions like that. If you don't know that the answer is yes, you're probably best saying no.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

For those answering from a U.S.A. legal perspective, please keep in mind the O.P. is in Australia.

(As such, I don't know how to answer your question.)
posted by Juffo-Wup at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2011

In your shoes I'd say something like, "Is this a trick question where you know the guy who says he's never ever been depressed isn't quite right, or do you just mean serious, spent time in a hospital kind of stuff?" The risk here is that they'll say your experiences warrant a yes.

Company physicals are largely about the company. They're going to be looking at your current health and going over all the non-typical answers on your form to see if you're physically well enough to do the job and not going to be out sick half the time due to health issues. I'd expect that being depressed due to a messy divorce that happened when you were a kid is going to be like having to have your appendix out. Tough luck for you, but unlikely to be their problem in the future.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2011

THe medication is not the determining factor, the diagnosis is. There are many uses for medications off the approved list. If you never had a diagnosis of anxiety or depression from someone qualified to make that determination regardless of what medication you were put on, the answer is no.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:01 PM on August 20, 2011

I think you really, really need to talk to someone in authority, in Australia, about this. Especially because this site is saying things that don't quite match up with what you say your employer wants to use this info for.
Health questionnaires and assessments may ask specific disability questions. These questions can be asked, provided it is for a legitimate purpose and that the health questionnaire and assessment are a reasonable way to achieve that purpose.

The purpose of health questionnaires and assessments is to:

1. identify whether the chosen applicant(s) can meet the inherent health requirements of the position of employment (if there are any)

2. help the employer and nominee to identify any work related adjustments that may be required and to make a recommendation. However it should be kept in mind that this is only a recommendation as the decision path in identifying work related adjustments is the direct communication between the employer and nominee.
This business about "in the next three years" worries me.

See also this handbook to disclosing mental illness in the workplace, and this page about employment disability discrimination from the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Looking at this guide for employers, it appears that you have access to the toll-free Fair Work Advisor Line. I think you should be asking them this question.
posted by SMPA at 6:10 PM on August 20, 2011

It might make sense to use a lawyer referral line for a 15-minute consult. If you say the wrong thing and are later denied a claim, it could be serious. IANAL but I wonder if you could write, "Not that I recall", where it says yes/no.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:55 PM on August 20, 2011

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