Employment and Mental Health

What does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) say about mental health conditions?

The term “mental health” refers to a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. The ADA addresses mental health in many ways. First, the ADA specifically defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The ADA uses the term “mental impairments,” which may refer to psychiatric disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and mental illnesses. It is important to note that not all diagnosed mental health conditions are considered disabilities under the ADA, because the definition of disability states that an impairment must “substantially limit one or more major life activity.” Examples of mental health conditions may include depression, anxiety, PTSD, or bipolar disorder.

Mental health in the workplace

Psychiatric disabilities have a unique dynamic in the workplace because they are both very common and very misunderstood. Explore our fact sheet, Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace, to get practical tips for job seekers, employees, and employers.

What is the difference between a psychiatric disability and mental illness?

The words “psychiatric disability” and “mental illness” are often used interchangeably. The term mental illness is typically used in a medical context to refer to a wide range of conditions related to emotional and mental health. The term psychiatric disability is typically used in a legal or policy context to refer to impairments covered under the ADA.

Myths and misconceptions about mental health conditions

Myth: Individuals with mental health conditions cannot work in stressful or demanding jobs.

Fact: Many individuals with mental health conditions can and do work effectively. How the condition impacts work life varies considerably and there is no “one size fits all.”

Myth: Individuals with mental health conditions pose a danger to others in the workplace.

Fact: Despite the flashy headlines, there is no credible evidence that individuals with mental health conditions pose a danger to others in the workplace. In fact, people with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

Myth: Individuals with mental health conditions cannot work until they are completely recovered.

Fact: Reasonable accommodations enable many with psychiatric disabilities to work effectively with their disability.

What are some examples of job accommodations for an employee who has a psychiatric disability?

As the employee and the employer work through the interactive reasonable accommodation process, employees should think through what kind of accommodation they might need by asking themselves a few questions: How does my disability impact the main tasks of my job? What do I most need as far as support, equipment, or changes in order to do these main tasks? 

Examples of accommodations for employees with psychiatric disabilities could include:

  • Concentration or distraction issues: More frequent reminders of tasks and due dates, a quieter work environment, more frequent short breaks, working from home.
  • Managing treatment and medication: Allowing for a more flexible schedule to accommodate appointments, giving more frequent breaks for medication, allowing the use of water bottles during worktimes, setting up a part-time schedule until medication plan stabilizes.
  • Anxiety: Using white noise earphones, attending meetings remotely, exchanging non-essential job tasks with another employee, changing the management or communication methods of a supervisor.

A guide to requesting reasonable accommodations

Want to learn more about the process of requesting a reasonable accommodation? The ADA National Network has developed a Guide to Requesting Reasonable Accommodations as part of our Employment Resource Hub. This includes tips and tools for both the employee and employer. You can get back to basics by exploring the ADA National Network’s most frequently asked questions on reasonable accommodations to learn more about the basic and legal definitions.

Non-apparent disabilities

When you meet someone, you might not notice right away that they have a disability because not all disabilities are obvious. Disabilities that are not obvious are sometimes referred to as “non-apparent.” Examples of non-apparent disabilities may include some physical conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes as well as mental health conditions. Mental health disabilities are often misunderstood and stigmatized. Many people with these types of disabilities choose not to disclose them. Regardless of whether a disability is apparent or non-apparent, the ADA protects individuals with mental health, physical, or intellectual disabilities equally.

Addiction and recovery resources

Mental health conditions and addiction are often linked. There are special considerations regarding addiction and recovery under the ADA. Explore the Employment Resource Hub page on Addiction, Recovery and the ADA to learn more.