People have started talking more openly about mental illness, which definitely shows a shift from recent years. For most people though, fully understanding mental illness remains difficult. In the workplace especially, there are a lot of people who regard mental illness as more of a character flaw rather than an illness. For those with a mental illness, this makes getting a job and keeping a job even more of a challenge.
In the workplace, employers may not always recognize when an employee is dealing with a mental illness or may not understand the behaviors stemming from the illness. Employers need to be educating themselves on the risk factors/symptoms of mental illnesses, offering Mental Health First Aid courses, or offering mental health screenings to their employees. The screenings would be confidential and serve as early detection, so that the identified mental illnesses could be treated.
On the other hand, it can be hard for employees to know when they should share their mental illness with an employer. For these individuals, it is helpful to know that Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 has put requirements into place for employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to help people with mental health disorders. These accommodations allow employees to have an open conversation about their mental health issues without fearing they will lose their jobs.
The reasonable accommodations that can be made in the workplace allow employers to aid employees with mental illnesses. Most of the accommodations can be set up with little to no cost to the employer. Typically, they just require some flexibility and creativity while being implemented in a timely manner.
Some possible accommodations may include:
- Create a supportive environment. It is very important for individuals with mental health conditions to receive positive reinforcement and be in an environment with open communication.
- Remove workplace stressors. Creating an office space that is quiet and possibly private may be more comfortable for an individual with a mental health condition.
- Adjust the approach to supervising. It may work better to check in daily or schedule one-on-one meetings to help manage any problems.
- Offer flexible schedules. Allow arrival and departure times to vary, as well as, accommodate for individuals to work where they are most productive.
Being sensitive to the needs of workers with a mental illness is no different than being there for an employee with a physical illness. By offering workplace accommodations to individuals with mental health conditions, employers are helping to maximize their potential and performance. That is a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee.
Lori Atkinson, Operations Director for The Kim Foundation
Lori Atkinson joined The Kim Foundation in May 2015. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in Middle Level Education. She was an 8th grade English teacher in the Omaha Public Schools from 1992 – 2000, a stay at home mom for several years, and then started a small non-profit in her husband’s memory during 2010. Lori carries out many duties for The Kim Foundation which includes: scheduling presentations in the community, hosting booths at conferences, managing the Art & Creative Writing Contest, coordinating the School Resource Fair, organizing the Suicide Prevention PSA Contest, assisting with the annual luncheon, and participating in the coalition’s community outreach group. Lori is the proud mom of three children and is actively involved in her church.