Accommodating Mental Illness in the Workplace

For people with mental illness, getting and keeping a job can present some unique challenges. Unlike physical disabilities that can be seen and recognized, employers may not realize that a person is experiencing mental health issues or may not understand behaviors as stemming from an illness. They may also not know they have to provide workplace accommodations to help mentally ill people who require adjustments to remain employed and productive.

Not every person experiencing mental illness will have difficulty at work, but some will. "Hidden" disabilities such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, traumatic brain injury, and intellectual and learning disabilities (e.g., attention deficit disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) can affect a person's ability to perform a job.

Also, shifts in mental health can trigger and recede without warning. When someone experiences a mental health issue, it can be difficult to focus, process, think clearly, remember details, organize thoughts and tasks, and stop and start activities.

For these individuals, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" to help people with mental health disorders do their jobs. The ADAAA does not list medical conditions that are disabilities, but rather gives a general definition of disability. A doctor may be required to validate the need for accommodation.

"Employers don't always know what a person is living with," says Beth Loy, Ph.D., who is a principal consultant with the Department of Labor's Job Accommodation Network (JAN). "There may be limitations due to medication, or a flexible schedule might be needed for a person to go to therapy appointments."

The JAN is a comprehensive resource for people who want to understand their rights regarding disabilities and possible accommodations. Individuals can access information on such all JAN's website or reach out to it directly with questions.

North American Press Syndicate

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