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Should You Disclose Your Neurodivergence at Work?

It's probably best to wait until you're sure that your workplace is accepting.

Key points

  • Stigma means “shame,” and it causes significant harm to neurodivergent people.
  • Research shows that bipolar stigma leads to rejection and low self-esteem.
  • Keeping your neurodivergence secret can cause anxiety and fear.
Quangle / Pixabay
Source: Quangle / Pixabay

​Should you share your neurodivergence in your workplace if you have the choice not to do so?

If you are autistic (like I am), have bipolar disorder (like I do), or are otherwise neurodivergent, and you’re able to mask—keep hidden—your neurodivergence at work, should you?

These are difficult questions to answer.

A feeling of powerlessness

For over a decade, I worked as a professor. I held a “clinical” position—which means I couldn’t earn tenure. Just like any job, I could be let go for any reason or no reason.

Some years into my teaching career, I was thumbing through my latest teaching evaluations. At that point, reading teaching evaluations was nothing new. Mine were perennially strong, and I wasn’t expecting anything different that semester.

But then I came across the single worst teaching evaluation I’d ever received. When I read it, the student’s words struck a very sensitive place. The student said I was disorganized (I’m not). She said I was rude (I’m not that, either.) Then she ended the evaluation with this pronouncement: “Prof. Pryal was often emotionally eratic” (misspelling and all).

The phrase “emotionally erratic” struck me right in the chest. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I have bipolar disorder, a stigmatized mental illness that I’d kept secret in the workplace since I was diagnosed at the age of 21.

So when the teaching evaluation called me “emotionally erratic,” I feared that my supervisors would believe the words despite all evidence to the contrary. I feared that, because of my bipolar disorder, my career would be over. (At that time, I had not yet been diagnosed with autism.)

Why did I believe these things? Because there is real evidence that disclosure causes harm to neurodivergent people.

The power of stigma

My career didn’t end with the negative course evaluation. But after all these years, I’ve never forgotten it. That’s the power that stigma holds over those of us who are neurodivergent.

I define stigma against neurodivergent people as a process that creates negative stereotyping based on the irrational fear of undesirable behavior, such as irresponsibility, instability, or violence. This negative stereotyping then leads to isolation, mistreatment, and other abuse of neurodivergent people.

Furthermore, stigma also works internally on neurodivergent people themselves, creating feelings of isolation and shame.

Research shows that stigma against people with bipolar disorder causes “rejection from society and low self-esteem.” Further, it “weakens living conditions, reduces income, and causes unemployment.”

Disclose my bipolar disorder at work and take these risks? No, thank you.

Disclosure is freeing, for those with job security

Despite the harm stigma causes, my former field of higher education has its share of neurodivergence disclosure stories—but mostly told by those who have secure employment and income.

Elyn Saks, a professor of law and director of the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics at the University of Southern California, disclosed her schizophrenia in a memoir and TED talk.

Why did Saks disclose? In an essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Saks points out the most obvious reason to disclose a mental illness in the workplace: “The psychological benefits of not having a secret and being able to be open.”

Indeed, keeping your neurodivergence secret can cause many problems, including anxiety, hiding your authentic self, and avoiding mental health care. If stigma weren’t a thing, disclosure would be preferable to hiding. Unfortunately, stigma is a thing, as Saks herself points out: “There is a tremendous stigma, still, around mental illness. People may believe, consciously or not, that you are unreliable or even dangerous, and they may fear you.”

Disclosure is a luxury

Lisa A. Tucker (formerly McElroy) spent much of her academic career in an insecure job. After many years, she earned tenure, and she publicly disclosed her anxiety disorder in an article in Slate.

In an interview, she told me that she recognizes the incredible privilege tenure grants her: “I am one of the very, very few people living with mental illness who does not have to worry about what might happen at work tomorrow. I have a job for life.”

I asked Tucker if she’d ever considered disclosing her neurodivergence prior to earning tenure. She told me no. “I was incredibly afraid of how I would be perceived if I told others. Before I got tenure, I just didn’t feel safe.”

For every Saks or Tucker, though, there are many, many more people who choose not to disclose their neurodivergence. In an interview, I asked a colleague who teaches in a non-tenure-track position at a top research university whether she would disclose her neurodivergence at work. She told me that she would only do so “under subpoena.” She believes that disclosing would hurt her job security because her job “can be so easily terminated.” In her opinion, untenured professors simply don’t have “the luxury to volunteer stigmatizing personal information.”

Disclosure to a sympathetic boss

What happens when you do disclose?

I recently interviewed Sarah (a pseudonym), who works as a barn manager, a job that entails taking care of horses that belong to the people who board them at her supervisor’s facility. Sarah lives with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and chronic migraines. She’s worked at three barns during her career and has had widely varying experiences with disclosure.

Sarah is responsible for making sure that “every horse gets their unique food and their proper medicines and supplements and that medications and feed are spaced out correctly”—a detail-heavy task. Because she has ADHD, she told me, “In order to make sure that every horse gets perfect care, I put in place strict routines and organizational structures. That way, there is little risk that anything will be forgotten.”

When it comes to her chronic migraines, Sarah must disclose them because sometimes they cause her to miss work. She told me, however, that “because migraines are not a visible illness, sometimes people don't see them as a ‘real’ medical issue.”

What about disclosing her ADHD? Sarah told me that she did not feel safe disclosing it in the past. But, “At my current job, I eventually told my supervisor that I have ADHD because she works in the coaching and therapeutic space, and I felt my neurodivergence would be received sympathetically.”

Disclosure is a deeply personal choice

When I started speaking out about my neurodivergence, I did so for the deliberate purpose of fighting against stigma. Tucker did the same: “I realized that many are truly prevented from disclosing because they don’t have job security. Once I had tenure, I thought that I had a responsibility to speak out for those who couldn’t.”

I am proud that I am bipolar-autistic, not ashamed. But stigma is insidious, and it can make people feel ashamed for not fitting in, for saying the wrong thing, for making mistakes, or for not being “normal.” Sometimes I still feel this way and have to actively work against the ugly power of stigma.

If you are neurodivergent and feel shame, it is not your fault. If you feel unsafe disclosing, that is not your fault, either. Instead, I encourage you to seek out a neurodivergent community, those who are like you and who support you. A good therapist can help, too.

If, on the other hand, you feel ready to fight against stigma and feel safe doing so, then consider disclosing your neurodivergence. If you have built a strong network of friends, colleagues, and family, then you might find disclosure freeing.

Note: The information in this post is not legal or medical advice.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Maryam Latifian et al., “Stigma in People Living with Bipolar Disorder and Their Families: A Systematic Review,” International Journal of Bipolar Disorders 11 (February 20, 2023): 9,

Bruce G. Link and Jo C. Phelan, “Conceptualizing Stigma,” Annual Review of Sociology 27, no. 1 (August 2001): 367,

Gretchen M. Reevy and Grace Deason, “Predictors of Depression, Stress, and Anxiety Among Non-Tenure Track Faculty,” Frontiers in Psychology, July 7, 2014,

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