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Do I tell my academic advisor/professor about my bipolar?


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(I'm posting this on the bipolar board rather than the Crazy Student one because my question is specific to bipolar disorder.)

I know disclosure is a big issue with a lot of people, in that it's murky territory and you hear both awesome stories and horror stories about people who have disclosed to the right or wrong person. There's a lot of stigma regarding this particular MI...so I'm not expecting a definite answer, just some input.

I go to a small liberal arts college where most of the faculty is quite open-minded. My old academic advisor left last year, so now I've got one of my favorite professors instead. I've been taking her classes for two years and haven't spoken much at all--last semester, I was dealing with a lot of crap from my bipolar, and while I passed the class with flying colors (somehow), I know I looked like I never paid attention in class, and it sucks when a professor doesn't understand that I'm trying really, really hard. There are usually 10-20 people in my classes, so it's conspicuous when someone's not participating.

Another reason to tell her is that I will probably be working on my senior thesis with her next year. As my thesis sponsor will outline a schedule for me, it would probably be useful to her to know that some weeks will inevitably be better and more productive than others.

If she's someone who misunderstands the illness, I can't imagine it would affect my evaluations, since that form of criticism makes bias pretty obvious--it might just make her feel uncomfortable working with me.

I'd go through the disabilities services, only I don't really need any accommodations at this point. My meds are working, and I'm mostly stable--for now.

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I would test the waters carefully. I would start with mentioning something about depression or anxiety and indicate you are in treatment. And them see what she says or how she handles it. I would not put the bipolar word out there until you are confident in her reaction.

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It is up to you what you tell your advisor, but I will just say that my advisor got wind of my struggles with depression, and he ended up putting that little tidbit of info in letters of recommendation he wrote for me so now I am dogged by this at every job I get or don't get. It's like I'm branded with it.

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jt07, are you serious? I can't believe someone would do that.

Thanks for the replies, guys. This is something I really needed third party opinion on since I grew up knowing a lot about mental disorders in a non-stigmatized way, and tend to assume that everyone's as understanding about it as I am...

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I'd go through the disabilities services, only I don't really need any accommodations at this point. My meds are working, and I'm mostly stable--for now.

If you don't need any accommodations why even bother telling your professor anything ? A lenient schedule is an accommodation.

nf

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jt07, are you serious? I can't believe someone would do that.

I wish I could say that I'm joking, but it really happened, and now that I'm unemployed, I'm sure that it is stopping me from getting hired. My professor screwed me big time.

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Guest Vapourware

I'd go through the disabilities services, only I don't really need any accommodations at this point. My meds are working, and I'm mostly stable--for now.

If you don't need any accommodations why even bother ? A lenient schedule is an accommodation.

nf

IMO, going through disabilities and getting accommodations in place is a good idea even if a person is stable. It's like an insurance policy for in case things go awry. With MI, situations can change pretty quickly - I know I can go from being asymptomatic to utter batshit within a few weeks. It is also much easier to set things up when you are stable, instead of when you are batshit.

As for disclosure - it is a very hard topic. Personally, I haven't had a bad experience with disclosure, and I have received extra help and understanding from lecturers when I've told them that I have the conditions I have. However, in Australia at least, lecturers are not allowed to disclose personal information like the fact that you have a MI to third parties, so they would not write it in letters and would not refer to it when writing comments about assessments. It might be different in the USA, I don't know.

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jt07, are you serious? I can't believe someone would do that.

I wish I could say that I'm joking, but it really happened, and now that I'm unemployed, I'm sure that it is stopping me from getting hired. My professor screwed me big time.

This is a bit of a thread-jack, but jt07, do you have to use this crappy letter of recommendation when looking for work? If you're in the US this should be covered by ADA rules (I'm guessing, I'm not a lawyer). Can you send a letter to this prof, or this prof's superior, and explain that disclosure of your health status is a privacy violation, and you need to get an updated letter that doesn't include this? But if at all possible, I wouldn't list this prof as a reference, and if you can get a copy of the letter, if I were you I would take great pleasure in a ceremonial burning of it.

Back to the OP - I think going through disability services now as an insurance policy is a good idea. I wouldn't disclose it to my professor if I were you, but I've been burnt badly in the past by disclosure in the workplace. I disclosed at university to the counseling center, and they wrote a letter that said I had a medical condition that required accomodation. It didn't say what was wrong with me, so I never got that funny look from any of my professors, but I was able to withdraw with no penalty way past the deadline when it was clear I wasn't going to make it to the end of the semester.

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Actually, if you're stable, now is the perfect time to go to disability services and work out with them a detailed set of accommodations that can be put into place if you need them. At this point you'll have the insight to explain clearly what might happen and how you would need support. Waiting until you're not thinking straight will just make a bad situation worse. You need to put those protections into place now; some school and teachers do not deal well with retroactive notifications.

When I was in college we were required to present our professors with our accommodations letter at the beginning of every semester. What was being accommodated was not in the letter, so a student with mental illness could chose to be "out" or not.

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I would get accommodations from the disability office now. Just like everyone has said, you never know when you're going to need them.

As for telling your prof...eh. That's really up to you. Some people do OK with disclosing MI, some don't. I've disclosed my more socially acceptable diagnosis of OCD to people, but not the Bipolar and definitely not the PD. So far, so good. Will I disclose the Bipolar? Maybe. At this point, I figure there isn't anything that anyone can do to me lest they feel my wrath, so whatever. Or maybe I won't. It will just depend on whether or not it feels relevant.

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Hey everyone, thanks a lot for all the replies and suggestions. I talked to my professor today after class, but just about my anxiety disorder, which covers a large part of the difficulty I have in school. She was extremely receptive and supportive and understanding about it. ^_^

After thinking about this more, I'd say you guys are definitely right--going through the disability service would be the way to go. If at some point I feel safe telling my advisor about it, I might, but I'll keep it quiet for now.

Ugh, I know this is just self-stigma, but I almost feel like it's wrong of me to go to the disability services about this. I've never failed a class here, even in my worst states, and have only once asked for a paper extension because of my anxiety. With regards to accepting my illness as legitimate and understanding that other people do not have to deal with these problems, this is something I still struggle with. But you've all made really good points and I'll probably take you up on the advice...I meet weekly with a tdoc at the wellness center and will try to get his help in setting that up so I don't back out because of my social anxiety issues, lol.

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I just don't see any benefit to disclosing to your advisor. Not when the option exists of going to disability services, and getting whatever accomodations you might need, without having to tell her the details.

Catnapper, once you've disclosed your MI to someone like a teacher, who has no obligation to confidentiality, I don't think it's covered by the ada anymore.

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For what it's worth, I disclosed to a particularly demanding professor whose class I was struggling in as I wasn't quite stable at the beginning of the semester. She was very understanding and I went on to perform much better in the class. That being said, I asked her recently for a letter of recommendation and she ignored my request. Seeing as how she was very accepting of my condition, you wouldn't think that influenced her decision but you never know.

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SashaSue, I've put the issue to rest for now because I recognize the truth in what all of you are saying. If there comes a time when I feel safe and comfortable letting her know, if it's ever even relevant, I might just disclose it, but everyone's input has decreased the likelihood of me feeling that way. I appreciate everyone giving me a reality-check, like I said. Sometimes I slip into frustrated moods when I think about having to keep this a secret.

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It's really important to think about this issue in terms of "boundaries" not "secrets" IMO. I have plenty of people in my life that don't know I'm BP, and I've worked jobs where I would NEVER have said a word, because I understood the institutional culture. There is nothing wrong with not telling everyone about your MI, I mean, most people with diabetes don't walk around wearing a sign, you know? If the issue ever becomes relevant and you need to, that's one thing, but telling for the sake of telling is just violating a personal boundary in that one doesn't have to run around telling everyone every detail about one's life. Most people won't care, and/or be like, "WTH?" or otherwise be weird about it, but it's fine to keep it PRIVATE. Not "secret".

Anna

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I am with Anna. I have several chronic conditions and I would never discuss them with other people. I figure no one wants to hear about your medical conditions and that is private information I do not share with others.

I think people want to unburden themselves of guilt which is the wrong reason to disclose.

A professor cannot write a glowing recommendation when you missed a bunch of their classes and had trouble completing their class. Especially when they know you have MI. What do you expect them to do, lie ? Your efforts are better spent getting well so you can prove yourself able.

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I think people want to unburden themselves of guilt which is the wrong reason to disclose.

notfred, I think that's an accurate description of what I was feeling the other day. It came after a class when I felt handicapped by the trouble I had speaking in class. That said, I don't miss a lot of classes, and I usually do get glowing evaluations--I just really overreact to things. So I guess no problem, right? Like I said, I decided not to tell her. I do genuinely trust that this particular prof would not react negatively to the information, but trust can be misplaced and I really shouldn't test it in this situation.

I guess I should clarify, when I said I was frustrated with feeling I have to keep this a "secret," I meant that in reference to my closer relationships. It was a misleading statement, I admit. Most of my close friends (read: people I trust and have known for years--and my trust is hard to earn) know about it and I prefer it that way. Then again, most of my friends are also MI. Just worked out that way.

I'm not saying I want to run around telling everyone about it. That would be silly, and, yes, a big breach of boundaries. (Although, when hypomanic, I do have an urge to tell everyone how wonderful I'm feeling, but manage to contain myself.) I am generally cautious. I hide my mood stabilizers and anti-depressants from my roommates. I keep my depressions very private. I use a lot of euphemisms when asked to explain some aspect of my behavior--"I am a nervous person," "I get kind of restless sometimes," "I'm just really tired for some reason," etc.

And I would not tell any employer, period. lol that was never even a question in my head

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I was so afraid of mentioning it to anyone that I didn't make an appointment with my advisor until today (also known as when I actually remembered). I was supposed to go in a month ago... So I've been wondering the same thing lately. I don't know how to bring up the topic in the first place. I'm more of a... may as well get it over with kind of person. It doesn't always work, but at least the people know.

Okay, it's ineffective and probably not helpful. Listen to them, not me. It really just depends on the person and their experience with the disease. It's scary as hell, but I think that if you're getting bad enough, you have to tell people straight out what's going on.

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