When you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it can make the workplace even more stressful than usual. One symptom flare can throw your day into chaos and make you feel so behind, you think you’ll never catch up. Before you know it, you’re heading into a rabbit hole of self-blame, comparing your performance to someone else.
But you’re not someone else, and your OCD isn’t a professional failing. It’s something you have to manage, and your workplace can help — but for that to happen, you have to disclose. Disclosing is a big decision, and there’s no one right choice for everybody.
It should be made clear that while you may consider disclosing, your personal information is confidential and it’s completely up to you who you share that information with. So if you do not feel comfortable disclosing your OCD then you shouldn’t. You are under no obligation to do so.
There’s a lot to consider before you decide whether to tell your work about your OCD. Disclosing might help you to get more support and accommodations for getting your work done, but will people think that you’re less capable?
Fortunately, the stigma around mental illness seems to be decreasing. In one national study of 150,000 college students, the number of people who believed that most people think less of someone who has had mental health treatment declined from 64% to 46% over 10 years. The number of people who said they thought less of someone for getting treatment went down from 11% to just 6%.
There’s still a long way to go, of course, but these statistics can be a confidence-booster if you’re thinking of talking about OCD at work. If your workplace has a more open atmosphere in terms of mental health, talking about your OCD might even help other people seek accommodations.
The other thing to consider is the possibility of legal protection. If your employer is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they can’t discriminate against you for having OCD, and they may be legally obligated to offer you accommodations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against a person with long-lasting mental or physical “impairments.” The ADA applies when:
Also, under the ADA, your employer can’t take tasks away from you or fire you because of your OCD. If you’re worried that your OCD is hurting your performance to the degree that you might lose your job or get demoted, disclosing can protect you.
According to one attorney, who contributed her thoughts to the International OCD Foundation, the most professional way to disclose OCD at work is through a request for accommodations. You’re best off directing your request in writing to your immediate supervisor, a manager or your company’s human resource department.
How you explain your OCD and how much you disclose is up to you and should depend on your relationship with the person you write to. For instance, you might be more detailed and less formal with a supervisor you’ve known for a decade than you would be with an HR rep you’ve never met.
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Whatever you choose to say, make sure that your letter specifies that you have OCD and states whether it’s permanent or temporary. Most people will identify OCD as permanent since it’s not the kind of challenge that has an end date.
Make sure you formally ask for accommodations and, if possible, list the accommodations that you need. If you’re not sure, that’s okay too. When you send this kind of request to your employer, they’re legally obligated to sit down with you and talk about accommodations. As long as you can articulate how OCD makes your job difficult and what would help, that’s usually all you need.
The gold-standard treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. ERP exposes you to symptom-inducing situations in a slow and methodical way, so you can get control of your OCD and maybe, one day, not need accommodations anymore. If you’re interested in learning more about this powerful treatment, contact one of NOCD’s experienced therapists today.