Many people with MS are concerned about the disclosure of MS diagnosis. Some see such disclosure as very risky and fear that disclosure may have negative repercussions in terms of their employers' views of their capabilities, leading to issues with job retention and support at work.
Such fears seem to be well-founded in many cases, with evidence showing higher rates of unemployment for PwMS than those in the general population and others with comparable disabilities. Many who do disclose though maintain that employers and other staff are actually very helpful and supportive once they become aware of the diagnosis.
The whole issue however has been little studied in the medical literature. Researchers from Monash University have now undertaken the first real study of PwMS to examine their level of disability and whether they have disclosed their diagnosis in the workplace and their employment status.
Results may surprise some who are concerned about whether to disclose or not. Essentially, they found that while level of disability certainly predicted whether someone with MS was still working or not, those who had disclosed their diagnosis in the workplace were more likely to still be working and for longer periods of time than those not disclosing, even allowing for level of disability.
In contrast, neither age nor gender predicted employment status. While the authors acknowledge the risk of discrimination for some people in certain organisations after disclosure of a diagnosis of MS, with about 8% of the sample reporting dismissal after disclosing the diagnosis, they note that the majority of workplaces respond in a positive, supportive manner to the disclosure.
This is an extremely difficult issue for many PwMS, particularly early on after diagnosis. It is difficult enough to try to plan for the future when one has been confronted with such a life-altering diagnosis, but many find the issues about whether to tell family, friends, work colleagues and employers an added and difficult burden.
This study should finally add some evidence which can help in making these difficult decisions in the workplace a little easier. Disclosure, in the right workplace circumstances, may actually help in maintaining employment, although individuals should make their own judgements about the particular culture within their workplace and whether disclosure is likely to be helpful or harmful.