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Author Topic: Depression: Do you disclose it to your boss (Dept. head, Dean etc.)?  (Read 10592 times)
life2012
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« on: March 12, 2012, 3:06:34 PM »

Hi!

This topic may have been already discussed before but I'm new to this forum.
It's that time of the year...Yes, annual evaluations. Though we haven't had an official meeting just yet, my boss is already telling me he is greatly concerned about my student evaluations. Last semester, I sunk into deep clinical depression b/c of a death in the family, an accident/injury, and yes, a conflict with my boss. Of course, all of those unfortunate incidents affected my routine/teaching/life/relationships with my colleagues etc. etc.. Should I disclose my psych condition to my "bigmouth" boss who doesn't know what confidentiality means? If I don't, he would conclude that I am a bad teacher. (I can't go into detail about the way he thinks but that's how he normally reacts).  I could provide a note from my doc/therapist but is it a wise thing to disclose your depression? Have you ever been in a situation where you disclosed your confidential medical info and your boss held against you? I am tenured but his evaluation will undoubtedly affect what time slots I'll be teaching etc. etc. (Yes, he likes to exercise his power and punish people.) One bad semester won't define my teaching but it will affect my pay raise and teaching slots. FYI: My boss is universally disliked so disclosing confidential medical info. to others wont' affect him much.
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brixton
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« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2012, 3:53:58 PM »

What are you hoping to gain from the disclosure?  Sympathy?  It doesn't sound like that's going to happen, given his personality.  Ablution or forgiveness for weak evaluations?  (Are your evaluations weak?)  If they are, rather than reaching for a diagnosis, you might want to think about ways to improve them.  If depression is making it hard for you to teach, make sure you're using your medical support structure  as fully as you can to keep the depression under control.  Meanwhile, look closely at what the students are saying, and consider ways to improve.  Is there a teaching center on campus?  Maybe they could help you with this.

I think what I'm trying to say is you're stuck with your boss and your brain's chemical make-up.  If the boss is wrongly calling your evaluations weak (which is what you suggest at the end of the post), dont' worry about it.  If s/he has valid reasons concerns and you have explanations or excuses (which is what you're suggesting at the top), think about ways to support yourself and your teaching.  I sometimes hear similar words from students -- I couldn't write the paper because I have a depression.  Usually my response is:  we need to work on your depression, but I also need the paper.  This is perhaps  a different situation, but it has some commonalities.
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2012, 4:31:47 PM »

Nope.  I had a star basketball player student once at a CC who was very disrespectful.  One problem was that I'd taken over the class mid-semester (and I've noticed that the students hate this generally.)  After getting promises in my office several times for better behavior, I noticed that he always relapsed.

The previous chaotic instructor had been a jock magnet. 

I took it to the chair.  He told me the guy was on the team on a scholarship, and that he didn't want to do anything.

I wanted to take the guy to a gym and put the gloves on.  I probably would have lost because he was far younger and bigger than I was, but I was aware that this would be a bad idea legally too.

Organizations are quick to label, so going to most chairs would be a bad idea.
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Taste o' the Sixties
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« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2012, 4:46:08 PM »

I hope this doesn't turn out to be a double post; I thought I posted a response, but it disappeared. I will try again.
First, OP I am sorry you are having to deal with this. Depression is no fun. Perhaps it won't help, but keep in mind that depression is not a sign of personal failure; it's a real illness (albeit one sometimes triggered by dramatic life events). As to disclosure, that's up to you. But you do not need to disclose the nature of your problem. You might say, "I was disappointed by my student evaluations; I've been dealing with some serious medical issues and have a plan to bring them back up to previous levels." Finally, keep in mind that you aren't alone. A local pharmacist told me that he figured more than 30% of the faculty at my institution are on medication for depression. Good luck.
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life2012
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« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2012, 6:14:32 PM »

Hi! Thanks for your very encouraging post. I know I'm not the only person who has ever suffered from depression. But sometimes, I felt like I was a total failure---someone who was not able to control her emotions. 


More than 30% of the faculty at your institution are on medication for depression??? Oh, my God... I thought we were pretty miserable here... but, indeed, we are not alone.

As you said, I'd probably use "serious medical issues" rather than "depression" to address the issue with the Boss this week. And yes, I'll tell him also that I will try harder next time to get better student evaluations. This should so. Like I said, one bad semester won't define my career. I'll try to be optimistic.   

I hope this doesn't turn out to be a double post; I thought I posted a response, but it disappeared. I will try again.
First, OP I am sorry you are having to deal with this. Depression is no fun. Perhaps it won't help, but keep in mind that depression is not a sign of personal failure; it's a real illness (albeit one sometimes triggered by dramatic life events). As to disclosure, that's up to you. But you do not need to disclose the nature of your problem. You might say, "I was disappointed by my student evaluations; I've been dealing with some serious medical issues and have a plan to bring them back up to previous levels." Finally, keep in mind that you aren't alone. A local pharmacist told me that he figured more than 30% of the faculty at my institution are on medication for depression. Good luck.
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ruralguy
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« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2012, 2:05:44 PM »

I wouldn't say "serious medical issues" unless you are ready to bring it up specifically. If a student used that term, I'd probably ask them what it was, if it semed to be an ongoing thing, or led to them missing something major. Sometimes they balk, probably because it involves something embarrasing like drugs, violence, etc. and also, many feel that some sort of emotional difficulty is stigmatized.

Reagrdless of what went on and what is going on, your evaluations need to be better. So, work on that.

If you feel the need to tell someone about this, talk to a trusted senior colleague, but not a blabby boss. The most I might mention (with boss) is  that you were dealing with a death in the family and that it "was a very draining and emotional time for me".

I wish we could all be more honest about these things, but so long as we have bad bosses, and questionable evaluation mechanisms (like student customer service surveys), I think being totally honest about one's mental/emotional condition is going to be difficult.
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msparticularity
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« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2012, 1:41:42 PM »

I wouldn't say "serious medical issues" unless you are ready to bring it up specifically. If a student used that term, I'd probably ask them what it was, if it semed to be an ongoing thing, or led to them missing something major. Sometimes they balk, probably because it involves something embarrasing like drugs, violence, etc. and also, many feel that some sort of emotional difficulty is stigmatized.


I am going to disagree a bit here. With both students and faculty members who bring up a "serious medical issue," the correct response for an instructor or administrator is to inquire whether they have set up a file with the disabilities office. It is deeply problematic (on legal grounds) for a department chair or an individual instructor to attempt to decide alone what kinds of medical issues do and do not deserve accommodation for students or faculty members.

OP, go to your disabilities office and get a file set up. DO NOT disclose the details of your situation to your chair. You are protected by ADA, and the disabilities officer will provide assistance in negotiating appropriate accommodation. In your case, for example, this might mean that, while your evaluation will note that you had difficulties last semester, it will also indicate that this was due to a series medical issue, and discussion will also occur about how your needs and those of the department will be addressed in future. 
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life2012
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« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2012, 7:44:12 AM »

Thanks for your post.

After the official annual evaluation meeting last Friday, the dept. head scratched my summer schedule. I am not going to teach in summer and said the decision was made by the "higher up." He normally fabricates stories so I am not sure if it was really a directive from "the higher up." In any case, I was denied due process and did not even have a chance to explain why my evaluations were not good last semester before "they" made a decision. In other words, comments from students as well as my evaluations were used against me. I didn't get a chance to explain that some comments were completely false. I didn't disclose my medical condition. We didn't even get a chance to talk about it. It really makes me mad that they ignored the due process.

 
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msparticularity
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« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2012, 1:36:26 PM »

Thanks for your post.

After the official annual evaluation meeting last Friday, the dept. head scratched my summer schedule. I am not going to teach in summer and said the decision was made by the "higher up." He normally fabricates stories so I am not sure if it was really a directive from "the higher up." In any case, I was denied due process and did not even have a chance to explain why my evaluations were not good last semester before "they" made a decision. In other words, comments from students as well as my evaluations were used against me. I didn't get a chance to explain that some comments were completely false. I didn't disclose my medical condition. We didn't even get a chance to talk about it. It really makes me mad that they ignored the due process.

 

Again, if you want to do something about this I think you need to first go to your disabilities office. Only they will be able to help you figure out whether you can still challenge this on the basis of your illness. In any case, you need to get a file set up in case there are lasting ramifications. You also probably need to read your employee handbook to find out exactly what the procedures are at your institution. You say you were denied due process, but I'm not sure from your posts here exactly what due process consists of at your place. At a minimum, I would expect that you have the right to submit written comments to accompany your evaluation, and you can challenge the incorrect information there. If that is the usual procedure, you MUST do it now, too; you won't be allowed to challenge a bad evaluation retroactively at some point in the future. Similarly, if the decision not to give you summer school teaching was carried out in a way that does not conform to your employee handbook, you should challenge that in writing through whatever channels are indicated in the handbook.

I wonder whether you are still affected by your depression--are you continuing to be treated by professionals? You seem to be angry yet to have a sense of powerlessness to do anything about it. Certainly, your department head is behaving like an idiot, but he's just as clearly like this and isn't going to change. Remember, too, you get to choose whether you want to try to do anything this year. It's also really fine for you to decide that you simply don't have the energy to deal with him right now, and to try to let go of the whole thing and simply take care of yourself. After all, you're tenured, and next year will be a whole new one.

Best wishes to you!
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"Once admit that the sole verifiable or fruitful object of knowledge is the particular set of changes that generate the object of study...and no intelligible question can be asked about what, by assumption, lies outside." John Dewey

"Be particular." Jill Conner Browne
lizzy
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« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2012, 7:14:53 PM »

Thanks for your post.

After the official annual evaluation meeting last Friday, the dept. head scratched my summer schedule. I am not going to teach in summer and said the decision was made by the "higher up." He normally fabricates stories so I am not sure if it was really a directive from "the higher up." In any case, I was denied due process and did not even have a chance to explain why my evaluations were not good last semester before "they" made a decision. In other words, comments from students as well as my evaluations were used against me. I didn't get a chance to explain that some comments were completely false. I didn't disclose my medical condition. We didn't even get a chance to talk about it. It really makes me mad that they ignored the due process.

 

Again, if you want to do something about this I think you need to first go to your disabilities office. Only they will be able to help you figure out whether you can still challenge this on the basis of your illness. In any case, you need to get a file set up in case there are lasting ramifications. You also probably need to read your employee handbook to find out exactly what the procedures are at your institution. You say you were denied due process, but I'm not sure from your posts here exactly what due process consists of at your place. At a minimum, I would expect that you have the right to submit written comments to accompany your evaluation, and you can challenge the incorrect information there. If that is the usual procedure, you MUST do it now, too; you won't be allowed to challenge a bad evaluation retroactively at some point in the future. Similarly, if the decision not to give you summer school teaching was carried out in a way that does not conform to your employee handbook, you should challenge that in writing through whatever channels are indicated in the handbook.

I wonder whether you are still affected by your depression--are you continuing to be treated by professionals? You seem to be angry yet to have a sense of powerlessness to do anything about it. Certainly, your department head is behaving like an idiot, but he's just as clearly like this and isn't going to change. Remember, too, you get to choose whether you want to try to do anything this year. It's also really fine for you to decide that you simply don't have the energy to deal with him right now, and to try to let go of the whole thing and simply take care of yourself. After all, you're tenured, and next year will be a whole new one.

Best wishes to you!

If I were you, I'd listen to Ms.P

Best of luck to you. I hope you get this situation resolved, and that you get quality treatment for your depression.
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ruralguy
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2012, 1:54:37 PM »

"Disabilities Office?" You gotta be kidding me. We BARELY have a real HR office. None of them are career professionals anway, and none have any understanding of the ADA or any other law.

Nonetheless, I suppose I should be more careful in the future, since I do have awareness of the law.

I will (and have before), referred people to the proper office that deals with such things on my campus. For students, its the Dean of Students. For faculty, I'd say something like "Please work out withh HR or on a need to know basis with the Dean". Thats the best I can do with no official who really knows diddly about labor law. I will not pressure anyone to tell me what it is that disables them, but at some point, someone has to be told something, if it is to have ramifications for evaluation.
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field_mouse
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« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2012, 2:34:11 PM »

I have a similar question -- don't know if it needs another thread or not.

I'm in a lower-stakes situation than life2012.  I'm tenured, my teaching evals this year were glowing, my Dept. chair is good at confidentiality and supportive of my research in the ways that really count.

However, my perimenopause is killing me.  I have fatigue some weeks and insomnia on others. My working memory is terrible.  My ability to concentrate on a project is shot. Until I got some medication, I was passing out every time I had a hot flash.  Preserving my sanity in the face of this is difficult; maintaining productivity has been impossible.  And I feel awful about that.

So, if he asks why, what do I say?  I'm not _ill_.  But I'm not well, either.
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nottooinlovewacademe
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« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2012, 4:07:04 PM »

1. If you are depressed, you are not crazy, well said already, think of it as a really bad cold, and academia can academia can drive you (and all of us) nuts. And students can be really nasty with faculty.
2. Excellent advice on getting someone in HR or disabilities office, etc. Chairs will back track when that happens and you are protected.
3. Medication can do wonders but not without some psychotherapy and exercise (walking everyday will do it). Do the three, get a good psychotherapist (shop around and donīt let anyone tell you that getting out of depression will take years or even months, it can be done in weeks).
4. Psychotherapy with someone familiar with academia will help you to be more strategic. Itīs OK, Iīve seen some outstanding scholars getting counseling.
5. Be kind to yourself and if needed why not take a leave of absence. Teach less. (I know that sounds crazy but may be a possibility).
6. Your chair is probably more depressed than you and he is just lashing at you.

Take care of yourself, very good advice here from your fellow forum colleagues
(I am an academic, who have been depressed, and who is also a psychotherapist with credentials)
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arty_
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« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2012, 4:24:42 PM »

Thanks for your post.

After the official annual evaluation meeting last Friday, the dept. head scratched my summer schedule. I am not going to teach in summer and said the decision was made by the "higher up." He normally fabricates stories so I am not sure if it was really a directive from "the higher up." In any case, I was denied due process and did not even have a chance to explain why my evaluations were not good last semester before "they" made a decision. In other words, comments from students as well as my evaluations were used against me. I didn't get a chance to explain that some comments were completely false. I didn't disclose my medical condition. We didn't even get a chance to talk about it. It really makes me mad that they ignored the due process.

 


At my university, summer teaching is completely at the whimsical discretion of the dean. There can be no due process here (by definition) because there is absolutely no entitlement for summer teaching. Perhaps this is the case at your university.

I am sorry that this sounds like an unsatisfying meeting, though.
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