Job Rights for the Mentally Ill
Employers beware. All illnesses must be treated equally.
Where to Find Help
If you think you may have symptoms of a mental illness, talk to your doctor.
Many hospitals and clinics offer screenings for mental illness free of charge.
To find a clinic nearby, call 1-800-573-4433 or visit
Employees should also realize that their physician can help, not only with
treatment, but by contacting an employer if necessary. But Owens cautions that
many doctors still fail to recognize mental illness, especially depression, and
often don't understand its consequences in the workplace.
Mentally ill employees in most large companies can draw support from
employment assistance programs. Counselors for these programs are usually
better equipped than human resources personnel to provide confidential
information and local contacts for mental illness, says Kelly Collins,
executive director of Advocate Employee Assistance Program, Inc., in
"People need to know that depression is very treatable; it needn't cost
a lot of money or take a lot of time," she says. "Unfortunately, the
workplace is not the best place to seek support in terms of your colleagues
because they may not be familiar with what you're going through and they may
feel uncomfortable about it. You're more likely to get support through
depression support groups, or through your church or synagogue."
Educating employers as well as employees is the best plan for reducing
stigma in the workplace, says Owens. And she adds that the stigma of mental
illness is already decreasing, much as the stigma of cancer has faded. "Now
people are treated for cancer and go back to work, and in general they're
treated no differently."
As for Laura Baxter, new medication has helped stave off the symptoms of her
illness. Now she is working in a third position where she does not believe her
supervisor knows about her previous struggles with depression, and she has no
plans to tell him. "A few friends at work know about it, and I think it is
important for people to talk about it," she says. "But I'm still
Christine Cosgrove is a freelance writer who specializes in health and
medical issues. She has worked as a reporter for UPI in New York and as a
senior editor at Parenting Magazine.