Job Rights for the Mentally Ill
Employers beware. All illnesses must be treated equally.
Armed with such advice and a letter from her psychiatrist, Baxter went to
the company's human resources department and explained her situation. Without
divulging Baxter's problem to her boss, a human resources manager was able to
transfer her temporarily into a less taxing position.
Baxter handled her situation well, says Patricia Owens, a former associate
commissioner of the Social Security disability program.
But the ADA rules are complex, and anyone who contemplates disclosing a
disability should first become very familiar with its provisions. (Boston
University's Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, at
www.bu.edu/sarpsych/jobschool/, has information on how to disclose a
psychiatric disability to an employer.)
Baxter had an advantage: she already knew she suffered from depression.
Owens says many employees do not recognize the signs of mental illness in
themselves. These people are in danger of losing their jobs because they don't
understand why they're not functioning as well as they should.
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."