Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The job application form

A friend of mine sent me a question this week that I'd like to throw out to the wider community. Her son has been offered a job that requires a physical. There are now two concerns of hers that center on disclosure and stigma. The family doctor refuses to sign off on the medical form because her son was hospitalized for three weeks at this time last year, he is no longer on meds and the doctor feels he will have relapse.

My friend understands the doctor's position from a legal standpoint, but is upset that the diagnosis will follow him around wherever he goes. She objects to the fact that he was "diagnosed" after a 45 minute interview by a doctor. Many job forms ask about mental health history.

We are all in this boat. Frankly, I've been avoiding this issue because I know it will rear its ugly head when Chris eventually gets around to being employed or needing insurance. I'm just hoping that things are not as negative as they sometimes look.

Can  someone get "undiagnosed?" Or, can someone go to their doctor and demand a downgrade of their diagnosis? Since medical records are private, if someone is asked on an employment form (insurance forms are more serious if falsified) what their mental health history is, what's the matter with saying "depression?" Now that  antipsychotics are being turned into antidepressants, where's the harm in claiming you were suffering from depression? Who's going to know? What about getting a driver's license for the first time?What legal recourse is there from a discrimination point-of-view?

What have we not thought of? What words of advice can you offer us?



  2. I imagine the situation is different, depending on what kind of job one applies for. So far, I've "applied" for one job after I got -- inofficially, I could have kept my mouth shut, and no one would have found out -- labelled. The thing is, I was recruited for the job right around the time I entered the "prodromal" phase of my last crisis (right under the nose of the people, who recruited me), but didn't start to work in my new job before almost a year, several months of therapy, and an inofficial label later. I decided to talk to my new employer for 2 reasons: 1.because I still was extremely sensitive, and reacting accordingly, and I didn't want them to come to wrong conclusions, like my previous employer, who'd been racking his brain, trying to figure what he might have said or done that had made me so angry with him... 2.because I thought, I'd feel a lot more safe knowing that my employer knew what was up, and what to do, or not to do, in case things should get a bit out of control. And I was right to think that.

    Well, I mentioned the label, but only after having told that I was going through a personal crisis, caused by past trauma, and I was met with more understanding than I'd hoped for. There really is no "stigma" attached to having a difficult time, or even experiencing a major crisis, that's caused by adverse life events.

    Of course, this only works, if you get a chance to explain, if it's not just about checking or not checking boxes in a form with no more room than needed to write "depression", or "schizophrenia". And it only works with people who haven't bought into the idea that there's no such thing as a personal crisis, caused by trauma, but only "broken brains".

    If I had to apply for a job today, I'd definitely not disclose more than absolutely necessary, and, if I had to disclose having been labelled, I'd lie about the label, if possible. Unfortunately, people get more and more "educated" by all these "anti-stigma" campaigns telling us about "broken brains". And who wants to employ someone with a broken brain, especially in a position that requires a well-functioning brain.

  3. Ms. Forbes,

    Chris needs to have a serious discussion with his doctor. They need to plan this out ahead of time.

    Your doctor can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Mine has helped me avoid sticky situations like the one you described.

    I won't go into detail, but it can certainly be done. I have a good job and no one at work knows about my condition.

  4. I can't seem to remember being asked - well yes, sort of. I think I always lied. I vaguely recall thinking "how rude to ask," and out of some desire not to embarrass them by answering, I left it blank or wrote "N/A." But I never had a diagnosis more serious than GAD or depression. I don't actually know or care, it was just for billing purposes that it had to be done by my therapist. With someone with a diagnosis of sz, that is a different story, but if it were me and I were feeling relatively in control and self-aware at the time of applying for jobs, there's no question I would just lie or skip it or leave it blank. Who needs to know these things? I'm mostly talking about office jobs, but if the issue in question is something more sensitive like intelligence work or the military, well that's out of my realm, I'm afraid. (No, I'd still lie!)


  5. Rossa,

    I have worked with people with disabilites as a vocational counselor for quite some time...

    Fortunately, here in the United States, we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1991.

    Now, an employer cannot ask about medical conditions on a job application or in a job interview.

    They can only ask if a person can perform the essential functions of a job and whether a person will require reasonable accommodations in order to perform the essential functions. (See www.ada.gov)

    The keywords "essential" and "reasonable" have been defined for the past twenty years, with case law... Interesting cases along the way.

    Unfortunately, the country you live in has no ADA law... We did not either until 1991... This is what I used to tell the people I worked with who had disabilities prior to the ADA...

    If a job application asks about medical conditions, put 'Will discuss in interview'. If the job application does not ask, strongly consider not disclosing a disability.

    Focus on landing an interview.... This is the big thing. (Job applications serve the purpose of weeding candidates out, no in - for all people - disabled or not)... So, network, use creativity.

    Once on an interview (if a person indicated they would discuss their disability), focus on what they can bring to a business... like a laser-beam!

    Focus on positive attributes, worker traits, build value...

    And close. Close the interview...
    Ask for the job. Get the job.

    It sounds like your country is where we were in the United States at one point, in terms of allowing questions on a job application that are nobody's business.

    But these areas can be worked on, and addressed, especially by practicing interviewing beforehand... People with health conditions can still land jobs... It take extra work, but it can be done.

    I hope this helps.

    My best,


  6. Thanks to all for the good feedback!

  7. B'ham, IMO it doesn't depend on the label. It depends on a) whether you identify with it, or not, and b) whether you're still somehow in crisis, or whether crisis is a thing of the past, and you don't have to fear a "relapse" more than anyone would have to fear to go mad.

    Looking for a more co-operative doctor seems to me to be a very good idea, BTW.


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