By Betsy Kravitz, a Business Development Specialist with the Office of Disability Employment Policy
As a person with bipolar disorder, mental illness feels like a balancing act. In order to stay healthy, I have to be sure to take my meds, get enough sleep, and stay attuned to my mood. I am always aware of the potential for the symptoms of mania and depression to recur, and must be prepared to manage them.
A healthy workplace environment is key to managing those symptoms at work – and it involves many of the same supports that all workers appreciate, things like access to employee assistance programs, health coverage, work-life balance policies and reasonable accommodations. Supports like these mean I’m not sitting on the sidelines with my skills and experience – I’m coming to work and getting in the game. And for the countless businesses that employ people with mental health issues, it means a productive, appreciative workforce.
Living with a mental illness also includes being aware of the stigma that comes along with it. A misperception about people with mental health disabilities is that they are weak or have a flawed character, rather than recognizing the biological basis of these conditions. Sadly, attitudes like these prevent people from seeking the help that they need to live healthy lives, and may discourage employers from hiring skilled, productive workers.
One of the key factors in maintaining my own health has been having a job. Employment has given me focus, allowed me to support myself, and kept me looking forward through difficult times. I have been fortunate to have employers who provided me with job accommodations, stuck by me through hospitalizations, and allowed me the time to recover and return to work.
Just as many employers readily accommodate an employee experiencing symptoms of multiple sclerosis through telework, provide leave for an employee who is hospitalized for cancer treatment, or encourage an employee with a chronic back injury to return to work, it makes good business sense to provide such flexibilities to those with mental health disabilities.
Employment has definitely helped my mental health and the mental health of many others as well. There were times when I thought I would never work again, but an encouraging employer and the right job accommodations allowed me to get back on my feet, helping me to recover. Employers who make the availability of these types of supports well known to all employees increase the likelihood that those with mental health disabilities will request what they need, fostering the mental health of their entire workforce.
As a business development specialist with the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, I’m familiar with the wonderful accommodation resources available through our Job Accommodation Network, and I’d encourage any employer who wants to learn more about mental health accommodations to check them out. There are many resources for more information on mental health disabilities, including guidance on where to find help and support at sites like MentalHealth.gov, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
Understanding mental wellness, both in the workplace and in everyday life, can help everyone achieve a healthy balance.
U.S. Department of Labor blog article: https://blog.dol.gov/2017/05/18/mental-health-work
(image description: hands from different races are holding the letters Mental Health. Each letter is a different color.)