Disclosure & Bipolar Disorder

Communication researcher Dr. Bradford Bitterly and cognitive therapist Dr. Lisa O’Donnell tackle the reasons, considerations, and potential risks and benefits of disclosing your bipolar disorder diagnosis at the workplace and in personal relationships with friends and family.

Hosted by Dr. Erin Michalak.

Dr. Bradford Bitterly - TalkBD Bipolar Disorder Podcast

Dr. Bradford Bitterly is an Assistant Professor of Management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. His research focuses on communication during strategic disclosure interactions, such as negotiations and interviews.

Dr. Lisa O'Donnell - TalkBD Bipolar Disorder Podcast

Dr. Lisa O’Donnell joined Wayne State University’s School of Social Work in 2017 as an Assistant Professor. She is dedicated to clinical and intervention research examining the nature of clinical and employment outcomes for mood and anxiety disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, as well as efforts to develop, refine, and implement evidence-based treatment. Lisa has been trained in various evidence-based treatments and has over 15 years of experience in delivering individual and group psychotherapy to adolescents, adults and families. She is certified as a cognitive therapist through the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research.

Chapters & Timestamps

02:07 About Dr. Bradford Bitterly
03:32 About Dr. Lisa O’Donnell

Introduction to Disclosure
04:35 Stigma & Bipolar Disclosure – “Discrimination is a reality”
06:23 Risks & Benefits/Pros & Cons of Disclosing
12:19 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Disclosing
15:49 Preparing to Disclose – “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”

Strategies on How to Disclose
16:55 How to Avoid Disclosure When You Don’t Want To
18:14 Should You Lie About Your Bipolar Diagnosis?
20:22 Use Dodging & Deflection Like A Politician
22:53 Humor Can Help You Disclose/Avoid Disclosure

27:18 Is It Too Difficult to Explain What Mania Is?
31:58 Disclosing At Work – Frame It Around Productivity
36:27 Should You Disclose In Job Applications/Interviews?
38:55 When To Disclose In Romantic Relationships?
44:23 Should You Disclose In At School/University Applications?
48:04 What If Your Workplace/Employer Is Not Accommodating?

Pros & Cons of Disclosing At Work

Whether or not to disclose your bipolar disorder is a personal decision. There is no single solution that’s right for everybody.

Here is a list of some common pros and cons of telling employers or coworkers about your condition, to help you decide which option seems best for you in your current or future work environment.

  • It may feel destigmatizing and increase your own acceptance of the illness
  • You can share what you want
  • It can lead to more protection if you disclose when you are well
  • You can ask for daily work accommodations and support
  • There may be a risk of discrimination
  • You may face stigma at work

View a detailed list of the pros and cons, and write your own list in this printable worksheet.

How to Disclose?

If you have decided to disclose, keep in mind that there are many ways to do this. Here are 5 options about who and how to disclose your bipolar disorder:

  1. Tell everybody about it including your boss and coworkers. 
  2. Disclose your condition to human resources so that accommodations can be arranged. 
  3. Tell one or more trusted coworkers who do not carry positions of authority over you. 
  4. Do not tell anybody, but do disclose your bipolar disorder on your work-sponsored health insurance claims. 
  5. Do not tell anybody, and do not disclose your bipolar disorder on your work-sponsored health insurance claim. 

If you decide you want to disclose, try filling out the questions in this printable worksheet so you can plan.


Questions and comments?

  • I question my own intentions whenever the thought of sharing my diagnosis comes to mind. Especially when I feel the urge to disclose because of feelings of guilt from something I did when I was manic and also the instinct that I can hide behind my diagnosis to avoid accountability.

    So my question is, generally, is it ever a good idea to disclose (usually to people who you are not so close to, like people at work) as a way of explaining away bad behavior or to get a pass for future bad behavior?

  • Maybe not related to the topic today, but wondering what the research is on the HPA axis and Bipolar Disorder? Thanks so much.

  • Thanks for holding this forum. Disclosing a bipolar diagnosis is more complicated than other illnesses like depression because of the amount of variability in experiences of mania. Disclosing depression is straightforward. On the other hand, plainly disclosing your bipolar diagnosis is not helpful unless you are deliberately specifying what mania looks like for you. Most of the time we do not have the opportunity to share matters that are this complex and there is significant room for miscommunication or information overload. So I choose not to disclose unless absolutely necessary. Do the speakers agree?

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