Disclosing ADHD and Other Mental Health Issues to Your Firm [TFLP205]

Last week, Lauren Ascher was on the podcast to discuss accommodations for lawyers with ADHD. It’s a good segway into an important conversation about disclosing ADHD and other mental health issues to your law firm. It’s no secret that there is a high incidence rate among lawyers for anxiety, depression, panic disorders, and other issues. 

In the United States, you are entitled to certain accommodations legally for disorders covered under the ADA. But a real challenge is deciding whether or not you will disclose your ADHD, anxiety, or depression to HR at your workplace. It can feel really daunting to think about disclosing something like this at work. 

In law work environments, lawyers often don’t think there will be any meaningful outcome from disclosing to HR. People feel that they either need to be extremely open about it and possibly violate privacy or not disclose it. Lawyers experience shame for a mix of reasons, but with these mental health problems, it feels like there’s a stigma around having them. 

People with ADHD don’t want to disclose this to HR because of messages they’ve received in the past or misconceptions about the disorder that they don’t want to deal with. It’s an extremely personal decision about whether or not to disclose. Potential accommodations can be made to improve the situation once you talk to HR, but there can also be situations where lawyers don’t feel safe to disclose it. Many law firms are unaccommodating for any kind of need. You might decide that leaving the law is better for your mental health. 

If you are trying to figure out what to do next, and it might not be law, the Collab Plus One-on-One Program could be a great fit for you. You’ll get access to a community of lawyers and the Former Lawyer Framework. With over 40 workshops and panels on various topics, you’ll have many resources to help you make decisions. You’ll also get eight weekly calls with Sarah that are 45 minutes each to go through your work and create an action plan. 

It’s completely normal to feel conflicted about disclosing things like ADHD, depression, or anxiety in the workplace. Many lawyers look at their situation and see that disclosing it will not have an impact because of the dysfunctional way the environment is structured. HR is far removed from day-to-day operations and would not be able to assist in the way they would need to. 

Only you can make that decision. You know what your workplace is like. Your decision can also change over time. There is no one right way to approach this question. If you think you have ADHD and have not been assessed yet, that’s a good place to start. You can visit adhdonline.com and use FormerLawyer20 to get $20 off your assessment.

Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.

Last week, I talked with Lauren Ascher about accommodations that you could consider asking for if you are a lawyer who has ADHD. This week, I want to talk about something that's related to that. She and I talked about this a little bit, but I think it's a really important conversation and not just about disclosing that you have ADHD, but all sorts of other things like anxiety, depression, other forms of neurodivergence, other forms of mental health issues.

First of all, it's no secret that there is a high incidence rate amongst lawyers of things like anxiety and depression. As I've talked about on the podcast many times before, I personally have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I've also been diagnosed with panic disorder. When we flip over to something like ADHD, we know that lawyers are more likely than the general population to have ADHD.

Of course, as we've discussed with something like ADHD, there are accommodations that you are entitled to legally because ADHD is covered under the ADA, at least if you’re in the States. However, if you're someone who has thought about the question of whether you want to or aren’t going to disclose your ADHD, anxiety, or depression to HR to your workplace, you know the question is much more fraught.

There are lots of reasons why people might choose to disclose, there are also lots of reasons why people feel hesitant about disclosing. I talked about some of these back in the spring with Megan Nogasky, specifically in the episode where she and I talked about taking mental health leave from work.

What I want to talk about today is the fact that it can feel very daunting to think about disclosing something like this at work, even if just to HR, because in order to get accommodations, that is who you would disclose to. But because of the nature of our workplaces in the law, it is often the case that lawyers don't really feel like going to HR and disclosing something is meaningful, that there's not going to be necessarily any sort of meaningful outcome from disclosing to HR, which creates this feeling of I either need to be super open about it in ways that I shouldn't have to and that violate my privacy, or basically not disclose.

There can be a lot of shame around this feeling because, I mean, of course, we're lawyers, so there tends to be a lot of that in the mix for all sorts of reasons, but people often feel well, there are a couple of different ways that this happens. One is particularly when you're talking about something like ADHD, there are a lot of people who still feel that there's a stigma around having ADHD even more so than something like anxiety or depression.

If you're someone who has ADHD, you may be thinking that you don't want to disclose because of how you think other people will view you, or even how you view yourself depending on what messages you may have received in the past about ADHD. As you know, we talked about this in previous episodes talking about ADHD, there are a lot of faulty conceptions about what it is to have ADHD, how it works, what it's like. We're going to be talking about that a little bit more this month on some other episodes, too, so stay tuned for that.

But all that to say, sometimes people choose not to disclose because they don't want people to know and I want to just make sure it's super clear, even though the episode last week talked all about accommodations and things that you can ask for, potentially institute in your workplace to help you if you have ADHD, I am not saying if you choose not to disclose that you're doing something wrong because I do think it's an extremely personal decision.

I also want to affirm that many of us as lawyers work in workplaces that don't feel safe to disclose these kinds of things. I think that's often a bigger issue. The reality is that many lawyers work in workplaces where it doesn't feel safe to disclose that you have ADHD or that you are struggling with mental illness like anxiety or depression.

The reason for that is so many of our workplaces as lawyers are so unaccommodating of any sort of need on the part of the people that work there. There is often this implicit, if not explicit, sort of expectation that you're just going to keep going and that the ideal is that we're all some form of basically lawyer robot.

If you're trying to figure out what it is that you should do that is not practicing law, you know you want out but you're not sure what's next, the Collab Plus One-on-One Program could be a great fit for you. In the Collab Plus One-on-One Program, you get access to my program for lawyers to help them figure out what it is they should do that isn't practicing law.

In the Collab, you get access to the community of lawyers on Circle, you also get access to The Former Lawyer Framework, which is a framework that I've created that you work through to help you figure out what it is that you want to be doing next. You get access to the monthly calls in the Collab. You also get access to the replay library. At this point, we have over 40 workshops and panels on various topics that are relevant for those of you who are thinking about doing something else that isn’t practicing law.

In addition to all of that, which is what you get access to as someone who enrolls in the Collab and you get access to that for the lifetime of the program, you also in the Collab Plus One-on-One Program get to meet with me for eight weekly calls, 45 minutes each, where we go through the work that you're doing following an action plan that I've created to help you in those eight weeks move through the framework.

Each call, there are certain things that you're going to do before the call so that when we get to the call, we can talk through it and brainstorm on the things you have questions about, work through issues that have come up, and also just for that accountability, which for many people is super important.

A lot of people really like to know when I show up to this call, I'm going to be expected to talk about X and Y, I'm going to be expected to have done X and Y, so this is a super helpful option for those of you who want that kind of accountability.

In addition, in the Collab Plus, there are a couple of paid assessments that I recommend in the framework, which for someone who just joins the basic Collab, those are things that they can go and purchase separately but as someone who works with me on Collab Plus, you get those included at no extra cost.

There are definitely some perks to being part of the Collab Plus Program and also, of course, there is the addition of the eight weeks of one-on-one calls with me to help you move through the framework. If you're interested in working with me one-on-one, the next step is for you to schedule a consult. You can go to formerlawyer.com/collab-plus. On that page, you'll see a button to book your consult. You can book your consult, you can also see all the information about how the Collab Plus Program works.

Once you book your consult, we'll talk and if it's a good fit, we'll work together and you will work through the framework in those eight weeks. Once more, formerlawyer.com/collab-plus. If you're interested in working with me one-on-one in the Collab Plus Program, that's the place to go.

If you're someone who is thinking about disclosing or has thought about disclosing at work that you have ADHD, anxiety, depression, any other sort of mental illness, or neurodivergence, but ultimately have decided not to or feel very conflicted, I just want to affirm you and tell you that whatever sense that you have of your workplace, I don't think it's in your head.

I also think that legitimately, a lot of lawyers look at their situation at work and see that disclosing is not going to have an ultimate impact because of the dysfunctional way in which the workplace is structured because of the fact that HR is so divorced from the day-to-day work, from the ways that work is distributed, and the ways it is assessed, and just pretty much everything about what it is to actually be working in that workplace day to day, I think that it is completely understandable why someone might look at that and say, “It's not worth me violating my privacy to disclose this information given that I see that my workplace is not structured in a way to meaningfully deal with it.”

Now we can have a whole other conversation about the changes that do seem to be happening, albeit quite slowly, particularly within our profession around all of these things. But ultimately, I think that it's important to remember that if you're thinking about disclosing, it truly is a personal decision, there are so many factors, and you’re the authority over your experience.

You know what your workplace is like. I think that there are lots of reasons why you might want to disclose and there are lots of reasons why you might choose not to. I don't want anyone to hear, because we're talking about, for example, accommodations on this podcast, to hear that and think that I'm saying, “Well, you should be disclosing and if you're not, there's something wrong with you.” Because in my experience, lawyers are often looking for what they're doing wrong and the reasons there's something wrong with them.

The question of whether to disclose is a complex one, and it is also very personal. Also, it's something that can change over time. You might decide, “I'm not going to disclose,” and then ultimately at some later date, you might decide, “It's worth disclosing for various reasons,” or that you want to disclose or that you need to disclose because circumstances have changed.

All of those things are okay. There is no one right way to approach the question. I do want to remind you that if you're someone who suspects you might have ADHD but haven't yet been assessed, due to listeners of the podcast giving the podcast as the name of how they heard about adhdonline.com, which is a site that connects people with providers who conduct an ADHD assessment, adhdonline.com reached out to me and has given me a coupon code for my listeners so if you are interested in getting an ADHD assessment, you can go to adhdonline.com and use the code FormerLawyer20 to get $20 off your assessment.

I don't get anything if you use this code. This is just for you if it is something that will be helpful to defray some of the costs around getting an assessment. If you are someone who suspects that you have ADHD, I do strongly recommend, whether it's through this means or any other, that you consider getting assessed because as you've heard on the podcast from different people, it can really make a huge difference even as an adult to learn that you have ADHD and to incorporate that knowledge into how you make decisions about your career, your life, and all sorts of things.

Thanks for listening to this conversation about disclosure at work. If you have a story about disclosing at work that you would like to share either with me or anonymize with the rest of the podcast audience, I would love to share that. Okay, that's it for now. I will talk to you next week.

Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.