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Mental Health and Your Rights in the Workplace

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Entering the workforce is an exciting rite of passage for most young people but the ability to work a job isn’t always cut and dry. For example, you may have physical or mental limitations that impede your ability to perform certain tasks. It’s crucial to note that disabilities aren’t always visible, and mental health disorders are particularly notable in this regard.

In and out of the workplace, mental health disorders are strikingly prevalent. Data indicates that more than 46% of adults in the U.S. will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. Although commonplace in modern society, the unfortunate reality is that psychiatric disabilities remain widely misunderstood — even stigmatized. For workers struggling with a mental health disorder, this can be especially problematic, and you may worry about losing your job.

The good news is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures certain protections for disabled workers no matter the nature of their disability. Here’s what you need to know about reasonable accommodations and workplace rights when it comes to mental health conditions under the ADA.

What are Your Rights as a Disabled Worker?

The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Psychiatric disorders were added to the ADA in 2008, and workers with a history of mental illness today have the right to privacy as well as the right to reasonable accommodation. In layman’s terms, “reasonable accommodation” could involve altered work schedules, changes in supervisor interaction and more. 

Providing reasonable accommodation, however, isn’t solely the responsibility of your employer. You must also advocate for yourself and your workplace rights, and inform your manager or the HR department of any accommodations you may require. Always provide written documentation that verifies your condition and how it may affect your work to better protect yourself in the event of potential discrimination.

Additionally, workers who have mental health conditions including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar disorder are also legally protected against discrimination and harassment. As such, your employer cannot fire you, reduce your hours, or otherwise impede your ability to work simply because you’re living with a mental health condition. If you believe that your rights have been violated, don’t hesitate to speak up to both management and your colleagues alike. 

The Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders

An unfortunate side effect of our fast-paced modern world is that it can harm our mental health. Even before COVID altered life as we know it, the overall picture of mental health in the U.S. was rather discouraging. According to Forbes, the youngest members of the workforce are the most vulnerable in terms of poor mental health. Among young people between the ages of 12 and 17, major depressive episodes (MDEs) are increasingly commonplace, and treatment is far from consistent.

Studies show that treatment is vital when it comes to mental health disorders. Effective treatment methods can vary significantly among individuals, from therapy and counseling to medications and general lifestyle changes. To better manage your mental health condition while on the job, you can also take a more holistic approach. Techniques such as breathing exercises and practicing mindfulness can do wonders for reducing your anxiety and managing stress

Taking Charge of Your Mental Health at Work and Beyond

Within the workplace, you should be aware of your limitations in whatever form they happen to take and how they can impact your performance. Mental health disorders can be a productivity killer, significantly impacting your employer’s bottom line. Medical professionals report that the estimated economic impact of depression alone exceeds $31 billion annually in social, psychological, and occupational costs. 
For many Americans, living with a mental health condition while also actively participating in the workforce can be especially challenging. As we continue to adapt to life post-COVID, addressing mental health in the workplace and protecting workers rights is more important than ever. As such, you should take steps to protect yourself, and knowing your workplace rights under the ADA is an ideal starting point.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.


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