Coping at Work

Everyone deserves a mentally healthy work environment!

It can be challenging to function at your best in the work world while dealing with depression or another mental health condition. But when you play an active role in your own treatment plan, you will find it easier to support your mental health and bring out your very best at work. 

Benefits of work

Being part of a work team can play an important role in your recovery by:

  • Improving your quality of life
  • Giving you a sense of belonging
  • Boosting your self-esteem
  • Providing financial security
  • Nurturing your sense of purpose and meaning
  • Giving your life more structure

Disclosing your mental health condition and requesting accommodations at work

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with mental health disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, or job training.

The ADA gives you legal protection in the workplace for the following mental health disorders:

  • Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders
  • Does not include substance use disorders (alcohol or illicit drugs)
  • You are protected under the ADA if you meet one of the following:
  • He or she has a physical or mental impairment that causes a substantial limitation of one or more major life activities
  • He or she has a record of such an impairment
  • Employer requirements under the ADA that are relevant to mental health:
  • Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations (changes made to job procedures/rules) for the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee to help you maintain your job performance (e.g. flexible schedule, working from home, regular feedback).
  • Employers may not ask applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. However, applicants may be asked about their ability to perform specific job functions.
  • Even if a disability is not currently active, an employee who needs an accommodation to continue controlling symptoms may be covered. An employee or applicant may refuse employer requests for psychiatric medical records, including therapist notes.
  • Measures that an individual takes to eliminate or reduce the effects of an impairment must be disregarded (e.g. Medications or coping strategies).
  • A person can choose to disclose their disability at any time (pre-hire or post-hire).
  • There is no requirement to disclose unless the person wants to request an accommodation or other protection under the law.

Should I tell anyone?

Deciding whether or not to share the details of your illness and treatment with coworkers is not easy. Your choice will depend on your individual circumstances.  Although there is a much greater public awareness and recognition of depression as a treatable illness today, there is still some stigma associated with brain illnesses.  To determine whether sharing at work is appropriate for you, and for tips on starting the dialog, see talking about your condition.

On-the-job strategies

Consider adopting the following strategies to improve your outlook and performance on the job:

Make recovery your top priority.  Work is important, but it is only one aspect of your life. Even on busy days, remember that recovery is your top priority. Continue to focus on your treatment plan and self-care strategies throughout the day.

Remember what’s important about work. It is rare to find a job that doesn’t involve challenging people, deadlines, difficult assignments and other stressors.  At times when work feels overwhelming, try to focus on the positive reasons why you work, including financial independence and security, personal satisfaction and the sense of community or belonging that comes from contributing to a team effort.

Don’t expect perfection. You will face disappointments, make mistakes, and have challenges at work – everyone does.  Adjust your attitude and expectations about yourself and your work, knowing that problems and interpersonal conflict happen in any job.

Don’t let the past define today or tomorrow. Realize that problems caused by your symptoms in the past will not necessarily repeat themselves, especially if you have a working treatment plan in place. Just because a lack of energy once caused you to miss a crucial deadline doesn’t mean you are unreliable. Give yourself credit for the progress you are making, and permission to start over.

Develop symptom-specific strategies. Make sure to learn all you can about your illness and your specific symptoms. Take a close look at the symptoms that have tripped you up in the past, and develop specific strategies for countering each of them. For example, if your depression can make it hard to concentrate or if you feel overwhelmed when beginning a project, it might be helpful to break work assignments into smaller, more manageable steps that can be completed in shorter timeframes.

Get support. Involving co-workers in shared responsibilities, asking family members to help with chores, or reaching out to a friend to listen to your ideas and concerns are all good strategies for accomplishing your goals without sacrificing your emotional health and recovery.  Many employers also offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to assist employees with personal and work-related issues. EAPs typically provide free short-term counseling, referrals and follow-up services.

References

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Succeeding at Work. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a- Mental-Health-Condition/Succeeding-at-Work