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Mental Health and the Workplace

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 still 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.  Some ways to assist employers with that could be educating themselves on the risk factors/symptoms, 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 about their mental illness with an employer.  For these individuals, it is helpful to know that Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 has put into place requirements for employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to help people with mental health disorders.  These accommodations allow for 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.  And typically, they just require some flexibility and creativity while being put in place in a timely manner.

Some possible accommodations may include:

  • Creating 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.
  • Removing workplace stressors.  Creating an office space that is quiet and possibly private may be more comfortable for an individual with a mental health condition.
  • Adjusting the approach to supervising.  It may work better to check in daily or schedule one-on-one meetings to help manage any problems.
  • Offering flexible schedules.  Allowing arrival and departure times to vary, as well as, allowing 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's Bio Photo

Lori Atkinson, Operations Assistant for The Kim Foundation

Lori Atkinson joined The Kim Foundation in May 2015 as an Operations Assistant.  She received her Bachelor’s Degree from UNL in Middle Level Education. She was an 8th grade English teacher in the Omaha Public Schools for ten years and started a small non-profit in her husband’s memory in 2010. Lori assists with many of the day-to-day tasks for The Kim Foundation which includes scheduling presentations in the community, coordinating booths at conferences, attending mental health trainings, researching mental illness/suicide, and working community events.  Lori is the proud mom of three children and is actively involved in her church.