Declaring a mental disability on a job application in healthcare
December 31, 2013 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Should I declare a mental illness on a job application within the NHS (UK) or not?

I'm about to hit 'SUBMIT' on a job application for an NHS (UK) position that is my dream job.

I have anxiety/panic-disorder. None of the professionals I've been to see want to put a label on it but I meet the DSM-IV criteria for panic disorder easily. It's been under control for as long as I've been alive but recently got so much worse it impacted my job and I sought professional help.

I have two options

a. declare it on a job application, and get a better chance of getting an interview (because they have some quota for interviewing disabled applicants) and I'll get a chance to shine beyond my application

b. don't mention it, because they'll just interview me to meet their quota of interviewing disabled people but have already decided not to hire someone with a mental (as opposed to physical or gender-identity) issue and I'm an easy way to meet their interview-quota with no intention of giving me a chance

I know no one's a mind reader and it's down to the individual personalities of the people making the decision. General advice from experienced people is welcome but advice from anyone specifically involved with the NHS is ideal.

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posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total)
If you haven't been formally diagnosed, and haven't been officially declared 'disabled' (i.e. you don't collect benefits for it), I wouldn't bother.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:50 AM on December 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

None of the professionals I've been to see want to put a label on it but I meet the DSM-IV criteria for panic disorder easily.

You do not have the expertise or education to diagnose yourself or interpret the DSM-IV in any official capacity. You can certainly read it and say "that sounds like me," but until a mental health professional diagnoses you, you are not diagnosed and you have nothing to declare.

Because of this, I'd seriously suggest against claiming you have a disability if you have no documentation of being diagnosed with said disability.
posted by griphus at 7:02 AM on December 31, 2013 [12 favorites]

Two comments:
  • Being "mentally ill" does not make one "disabled." The former is a medical term (which doesn't even apply to you yet) and the latter is a legal term (which requires the former in addition to other legal hoops). Right now, you are neither. If you claim this on your application, you will be almost definitely lying, which could result in repercussions for you down the line. We can't advise you here to pursue a course of action which is at best unethical and at worst illegal.
  • Nobody really wants to hire someone who self-discloses themselves to be mentally ill. The employer will have procedures to handle this - for instance, the quotas that you suggest - but at best, you'll have an employer that only hires you because they have to, not because they want to. Medical discrimination is a very real thing, and you would be inviting it by self-declaring a medical illness that effects your work performance. In other words, you would be outright admitting that your employer would be hiring you at a less-than-full capacity even though they have to pay you a full salary (hint, this isn't very appealing, even if it is the law). Unless you absolutely need to, you should be hired on merit, not on a (currently non-existant) disability. It's a bit of an affront to actually disabled people to take advantage of their legal status just to get you a job.

    posted by saeculorum at 7:21 AM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

    The UK has the "equality act 2010" and that makes the answer to your question very very very country specific. In terms of what a mental health disability is and your rights etc. US based answers won't necessarily take that into account, so keep that in mind.
    posted by misspony at 7:26 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Some of the US-based answers don't quite work for here. If it helps, the guaranteed interview scheme is for disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria to qualify for the job. In that context, they define a disabled person as "someone who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and adverse long-term effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities."

    If that describes you, then I think you're perfectly fine to apply under the guaranteed interview scheme. Personally, I would use the guaranteed interview scheme - I also have mental health issues and got my last two jobs after applying under that scheme (although both were in Scotland, and neither were with the NHS, so YMMV). Also, in my experience, literally nobody in the hiring process ever asks you what your disability is - the only things I was asked in my interview regarding my disability were along the lines of "how can we best meet your accessibility needs?"
    posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 7:37 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

    It is not clear to me why there are references to "US based answers" vs "UK based answers". I have not read anyone mention anything about the US in any answer. Unless you believe that implicit medical discrimination does not exist in the UK or that self-diagnosing illness is acceptable in the UK, then all answers here are still applicable.
    posted by saeculorum at 8:19 AM on December 31, 2013

    I'd be wary if you don't have a proper diagnosis and documentation. It'd get you the interview, sure, but then if you got the job, you'd have to supply the information for their HR files, and then it'd come out that you don't have the documentation, and it could just backfire rather impressively.
    posted by Katemonkey at 8:42 AM on December 31, 2013

    First, I definitely agree that you're on very shaky ground trying to use something you haven't actually been diagnosed with to secure preferential treatment from a government entity. They tend to be pickier about following the letter of the law, for obvious reasons. However, I would consider discussing with the person who manages your mental health care whether they think your chances of finding work would be helped or hindered by making it official. I don't know the British health care system that well, but are they NHS employees themselves? I'd consider your doctor your best resource, here.

    Second, of all the mental health disorders you can disclose, it is my personal (US-based) experience that in a workplace setting, people read "panic attacks" much more negatively than they read "depression" or "obsessive-compulsive disorder", as examples. OCD, say, is read as "quirky", panic attacks are read as "likely to completely collapse under the slightest bit of strain". As someone who also gets them, I'd be hesitant to apply for my dream job if the process involved disclosing them specifically. If it's really more general, well, I'd be treading carefully, anyway.
    posted by Sequence at 9:36 AM on December 31, 2013

    In the vast majority of NHS Trusts the information at the end of the form asking ethnic background, disability etc is purely for equality monitoring purposes, is kept confidential by HR and is not seen by those shortlisting for interview. I'm not involved in HR but I've worked in the NHS for ten years and never heard of any kind of rules giving candidates with a disability a better chance of getting an interview.

    If you don't have an official disability I don't think you should include this on the application. If you are appointed it will be subject to occupational health clearance and they will send you a form for this. This is where you can explain that you have this problem. It sounds as though you could legitimately state that it is usually well controlled and that you have learnt from your recent experience and would have coping mechanisms in place for possible future issues. If so it's quite possible you would be cleared for the job. Information submitted to Occupational Health should be confidential and not passed to your manager without your explicit permission.
    posted by *becca* at 9:49 AM on December 31, 2013

    The equality act 2010 changed a lot in the uk about disability, health and how those are treated by employers... such as references, what a disability is defined as for employment purposes.... Yada's long and groundbreaking... In the uk the op can expect certain rights that are country specific- that's why country specific advice is very relevant to the op.
    posted by misspony at 12:05 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

    In my experience of NHS recruitment (4 jobs in three years - yay), the NHS tends to bend over backwards to make sure everyone can see that they are doing things transparently and by the law. My field is clinical and jobs tend to be hugely oversubscribed so this may explain why it is so rigorously "fair".

    I think on the NHS jobs application form, ticking the box you are describing would benefit you if:
    * They get more than about thirty applicants for the job as that means they will actually have to read your application
    * You are qualified for the job, that is, you mean all the essential criteria in the person spec and most of the desirable criteria.
    * Your personal statement shows success in related posts
    If you can't show success in related posts then they might start worrying about whether your disability will affect your work.

    Whether I would declare it or not depends on how much you think it will affect your work. If you don't think it will substantially affect it then I wouldn't tick the box. I don't think it's worth the doubts it could cause unless you genuinely would need the job to be changed for you or they get so many applications that they won't read yours fully otherwise.

    Legally, they can decide not to employ you if they cannot make "reasonable accommodations" to allow you to do the job, but I suspect this would be at the Occupational Health check stage, not the interview stage. For example, someone with a bad back or in a wheelchair would not be employed to do my job even though they have a protected disability because most of my patients are in bed and you need to be able to lean over to examine them.

    I've worked with people with accommodations under the equality act - they were things like a co-worker with arthritis who needed extra time to move between work locations, special software for someone with dyslexia when writing reports, special seating for someone with a back problem, flexible working patterns for someone with occasional migraine.

    You should also think about what you would say to Occupational Health should you get the job and you have to fill in the health questionnaire. On this you may have to disclose your problems, and if you don't and they do turn out to affect your work you could have trouble getting support. Some forms will just ask if you have a diagnosis of any mental health disorder (you could choose to say no), some will ask if you have ever seen a therapist of counsellor, or whether you have ever sought help for anxiety or depression. This will likely mean you'll have to come in for pre-employment meetings/telephone conferences where they will discuss extensively what difficulties you have, how it is likely to affect your work and what the Trust would need to do to accommodate your needs. If they don't feel they can accommodate your needs then they can't clear you for the job. If they feel they can then your manager gets some information about your needs and how they must accommodate them. If occupation health aren't sure then I don't know how much information they can pass on to your line manager.

    Good luck with the job!
    posted by kadia_a at 1:48 AM on January 1, 2014

    •Being "mentally ill" does not make one "disabled." The former is a medical term (which doesn't even apply to you yet) and the latter is a legal term (which requires the former in addition to other legal hoops).

    This isn't true in the UK. See page 8 and page 17 on this link. Depending on what impact it has on your day to day life, mental illness is absolutely classed as a disability. I have bipolar disorder, and I had to have a discussion with Occupational Health when I took my full-time contract in my current job to see if any accommodation or extra assistance was needed under the terms of the Equality Act. My job can be high-stress and requires clear, critical thinking and consistency, and for this reason I was worried about disclosing it prior to passing my probation - so you may feel that you would rather prove yourself in the position before disclosing your condition. (I had done this in the past when temping, and was 'let go' for trivial reasons soon after.)

    In my case, I do have paperwork that confirms an official diagnosis, but I was never asked for this.
    posted by mippy at 3:17 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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