Should I disclose my mental health issues to a prospective (and former) employer?
October 24, 2012 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Last year I quit my job due to depression and anxiety. I now have an interview with my former employer for the same job. Should I disclose my mental health issues during the interview as an explanation for my progressively lazy work attitude and subsequent quitting?

I generally would not contemplate disclosing this sort of information to a prospective employer, however I feel that without an explanation for my workplace laziness last year, I have no chance of getting this job. (If you're wondering why I got an interview, this is a government agency that has to determine which applicants to interview based solely on selection criteria, which I more than meet since I previously worked in the role for over a year.)

I was never pulled up for my lazy workplace behaviour since I always met my deadlines. However, I took a lot of sick days, and spent a lot of time chatting with colleagues instead of doing my work. This behaviour became worse as my anxiety (mostly about work) increased and definitely wouldn't have gone unnoticed. I ended up quitting because I felt so overwhelmed and scared of the job.

Since then, I have received (and am continuing to receive) treatment for my mental health issues and I very much want to resume working in this role. I have not worked since I was previously in the position and I'm not sure how I can explain the gap in my resume if I don't mention my medical issues. I can't, nor do I really want to lie, particularly as some of my former colleagues know me outside of work (though they are unaware of the depression and anxiety).

So, my questions are:

1) Should I disclose my mental health issues to my former employer at my interview, and explain that I have addressed the problem, and;
2) If not, how should I explain the year-long gap in my resume, keeping in mind I don't want to lie?

Thanks so much for your help!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you quit rather than got fired, and you met your deadlines, etc., is there any way to informally talk to anyone over there about what they think about you? If you left on good terms and had a good reputation, seems like chances of getting rehired would be good, and I wouldn't bring it up.

I generally think gaps in employment are more troubling to employees than they are to employers. As a hiring manager myself, it does come up as a question, but in this day and time to be unemployed for a while is not unusual.

If you do find out that they were glad you quit, or you know you have negative reviews from last time, what have you got to lose by acknowledging the problems and telling them what you did about it?
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:33 AM on October 24, 2012

Could you tell them that you had the beginning of a health issue which started at work, then was treated during that gap, and is now under control?

I wouldn't get into specifics with them, but this might be a good middle ground.

Although, if you were never reprimanded they might not even remember you slacking off or many of the details of you as an employee. In which case you might not need to mention anything.
posted by Vaike at 8:38 AM on October 24, 2012 [21 favorites]

From the perspective of your previous employer, it's not clear to me you ever had a problem. There's nothing here to "explain". You did your job. You did your job well. You voluntarily quit to "pursue other opportunities". Quitting a job is not strange, provided you don't strongly criticize your former employers, which is often perceived as indicating you are a difficult employee.

I don't know why you would bring up anything about your anxiety to a prospective employer, because your termination was not abnormal. From everything I read, it would seem as if your previous employer would provide a positive reference. In other words, what do you feel you have to explain?

I think you're overthinking this. Most employers tend not to care too much how you do your work, so long as you do your work. You did so. Why are you worrying about it?
posted by saeculorum at 8:41 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would not, maybe you were travelling and bettering yourself in some way?

They probably do not remember.
posted by ibakecake at 8:41 AM on October 24, 2012

Seconding Valke.

If they ask why you quit, "health issues that are now being treated" is a sufficient reason.

If they don't ask, don't offer the info.
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:42 AM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

This behaviour became worse as my anxiety (mostly about work) increased and definitely wouldn't have gone unnoticed.

You know your situation better than we possibly could, but you shouldn't assume the above to be true, no matter how much it seems to be the case in your opinion. I have often had the experience of going into a performance review feeling that I'd had a terrible year, it was a major drop off from last year, and I'd be given an official reprimand/improvement plan. Instead: "Exceeds Expectations" and a raise.

With that said: Don't feel the need to bring it up if they don't, and if they do, "Health issues now being treated.
posted by SpiffyRob at 8:47 AM on October 24, 2012

"Health issues, that are now well managed and will not impact my work"

If you had IBS or an STI or a difficult miscarriage, or any other medical issues that is uncomfortable to discuss. You wouldn't ever need to tell your employer. You certainly don't need to tell an interviewer.
posted by French Fry at 8:53 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd address it, probably with something like, "Personal issues began impacting my work negatively, including health problems that made it difficult to concentrate on work. Things are now substantially better."
posted by spanishbombs at 8:53 AM on October 24, 2012

If it were me, I would consider volunteering that I am excited to be interviewing for the role again, because I left the role only because I was having health issues that were starting to interfere with the level of performance that I expect of myself, and I wanted to ensure that [dept / team] were not affected. Fortunately, the health issues are now resolved, and I am eager to get back to [name specific goals / tasks / projects] that I enjoyed contributing / working on / developing so much, and taking them to the next level...blah, blah.

Whether I would volunteer would depend on how much info I could gather about the impression my leaving / work issues left behind.
posted by girlpublisher at 8:57 AM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Never disclose the specifics of chronic health issues that affect work performance. Hiring someone with a chronic health issue like that -- whether it is mental or physical -- is almost guaranteed to get you not hired. Someone who has disclosed something like that is a huge liability so employers will stay on the safe side and not hire a liability.
posted by griphus at 9:02 AM on October 24, 2012

Basically if you have two people up for a job, completely identical, except one says "well, I have depression and anxiety," that indicates that they are both a higher-than-usual risk with regard to work performance and they're in a sticky situation because you disclosed this (i.e. they may not be able to legally fire you if the work performance drop is related to a disclosed health condition.) So they're certainly not going to hire the person that they might not be able to get rid of easily.
posted by griphus at 9:04 AM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You sound like a perfectly normal employee. You went to work, did your work and met your deadlines. No one concentrates 100% at work, you need to slack off a bit if only to refresh yourself.

So right there I think you have an over inflated understanding of what slacking off is.

Don't mention it.

As for quitting and the gap. Practice a one sentence explanation and then let it go. If you're being interviewed, you are qualified for the job and may well get it.

"I left the position due to some health issues, which are now resolved. I really enjoyed working here and I'd love to pick up where I left off."

Let them follow that up if they like, but they probably won't.

Don't be surprised if it's not even addressed, or touched upon. If so, don't bring it up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:14 AM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Bringing up health issues in a job interview is exactly like talking to the cops.

There is NOTHING to gain, and EVERYTHING to lose.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:20 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think "family emergency" would cover it: You avoid specifying that it was your own emergency, and would be absolutely justified in refusing to discuss it in any way shape or form, no matter what type of emergency it was.
posted by Ys at 9:44 AM on October 24, 2012

Agreeing with those who say not to go into any details. It's really not their business and it sounds like you did what was required of you for the job. Plus, in the end since they already know you, whatever you say in the interview may or may not have an impact on whether or not you get the job.
posted by Rinoia at 10:41 AM on October 24, 2012

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