Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part IV: Your Employer

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Credit to flickr.com user Franklin Hunting. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

[ Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV ]

You know how and when to disclose your mental illness, and even if to disclose to family and friends. But what about your employer? Read on to learn how to protect yourself.

When choosing to disclose a mental illness at work, there are several factors to consider. You might face stigma from your coworkers–or worse, your bosses. Those you work with might not understand, or even want to understand, your daily struggle. However, with disclosure might come special accommodations–like extra breaks–which are part of your civil rights. There are certain protections available to you.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a protection that you should be familiar with. The ADA is just like it sounds like: a federal law that protects Americans with disabilities at private employers with more than fifteen employees, as well as state and government employers. There are two conditions you must meet for the act to apply:

  1. Your disability impairs your life, essentially making working difficult. This condition applies to difficulties with regulating emotion, concentrating, and other ways your mental illness interferes with your ability to work.
  2. That, while your illness makes working difficult, you can get the work done.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act)

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or Rehab Act, is a federal law very similar to the ADA that applies to schools. Any agency that receives government funding is covered under the Rehab Act.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a useful law that helps people keep their jobs while taking an extended leave of absence. The FMLA only applies to companies with over fifty employees, and after you have worked for the company for a year minimum. The FMLA lets you take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member or recover from an illness yourself.

States also have their own protections for Americans with disabilities.

What Accommodations Can I Receive? How?

Under these laws, you can receive special accommodations: working from home, flexible start times, written directions, feedback from your bosses and coworkers, more breaks, and quiet places to take those breaks. These changes to the workplace are intended to be an aid for you so that you can complete your tasks.

But how do you apply for these accommodations? The process isn’t difficult, but the onus is on you to ask. Once you do, your employer is mandated to talk with you.

  • First, contact the human resources (HR) department and ask them what channels you need to go through to apply.
  • Write down your request. Be very specific as to what accommodations you need, and explain to HR how these will help you in the workplace.
  • Talk with your treatment team–therapists and psychiatrists–to see if they can offer any proof that you suffer from a mental illness.
  • Take notes at every conversation you have with your boss. Do not delete any emails that apply to the request.
  • Be reasonable and flexible. Your strongest advocate is you, so be prepared to negotiate.

 Discrimination

What if you’ve been discriminated against because you suffer from a mental illness? There are legal protections available for you:

  • If the employer is a private one covered by the ADA, then you have to reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, www.eeoc.gov.
  • If, however, the employer is a federal agency, like a school or governmental employer, then you must reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, federal division.
  • States have protections as well. If you’ve been discriminated against despite these laws, look up your state’s Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA).
  • The Department of Labor manages the FMLA. If you’ve been denied your legal right to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, then contact them.

There are several protections available to you should you choose to disclose your mental illness to your employer. Whether or not you should is completely up to you. As we said, you might face stigma from your coworkers or bosses, but if you’ve been discriminated against, you can file complaints. You have a right to accommodations. All you have to do is take that step forward.

Good luck!

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Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part III: Friends and Family

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Credit to flickr.com user Oliver DelaCruz. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

[ Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV ]

You know when and how to disclose your mental illness. But should you? We cover whether you should disclose to friends and family.

Pros and Cons

When you think about whether to tell people, think about what the consequences will be if you don’t tell them as well as if you do. Thinking this through can help you decide if you truly want to disclose your mental illness.

Disclosing To Your Loved Ones

Before you disclose your mental illness to your family and friends, there are several factors to consider. First of all: do you think your listener will understand? Will they be able to support you in the ways you need supported, such as advice, help with doctors or avoiding drinking, or emotional support? Not everyone is skilled at being emotionally available. Make a list of the people around you who have this skillset.

There are three possible outcomes to telling a loved one about your illness:

  1. He or she is completely comfortable with your disclosure, and nothing changes.
  2. He or she is incredibly uncomfortable, and takes steps to end the relationship with you.
  3. He or she says that he or she is comfortable with you telling them this, and proceeds to fade slowly from your life.

Obviously the first outcome is the best and most hoped for. While ending relationships are a concern, it’s entirely possible that he or she wouldn’t have been able to support you anyway, so it’s probably best that he or she disappears from your life.

Telling a loved one about your mental illness takes a lot of courage. Consult your list of people who can give you emotional support to decide whether it’s worth the risk to tell them.

Tune in next week for part four in this series: “Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part 4: Your Employer.”

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Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part II: How

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Credit to flickr.com user Id-iom. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

[ Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV ]

Are you ready to disclose that you have a mental illness? Read on to figure out how to tell your family, friends, and maybe even your employer that you have a disorder.

1. Prepare Your Listener

In order to best disclose that you have a mental illness, you need to prepare your listener. It’s sort of like writing an essay: first you tell him or her what you’re about to say, then you say it, then you summarize what you’ve just said. Preparing your audience is called “process talk.” Try this: “I want to talk to you about something I’m struggling with. It’s taken me a lot of courage to come this far. I hope you’ll support me.”

2. What You’re Dealing With

Next, you want to give concrete examples of what your mental illness is. Explain a situation or two where you’ve struggled, such as not being able to get out of bed for weeks, or going on multiple unplanned spending sprees when you’re manic, if you have bipolar disorder. Cementing your mental illness in your listener’s head will help them understand exactly what you’re facing every day. Consider providing educational materials such as articles or pamphlets about your mental illness. NAMI.org is a great online resource for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

3. Ask for Help

Suggest ways your audience can support you. This can involve asking for more breaks or other accommodations at work or school, or simply asking a friend to understand why you can’t hang out as long. You can also ask your loved ones to help you find a doctor and follow through with an appointment, if you feel that your friend or family member will understand and be helpful. Set boundaries here, too: you know yourself best, and you need to explain whether you need advice or just need your audience to listen.

4. What to Share

You definitely don’t need to share everything. Plan ahead as to what you feel comfortable sharing about your experience. It’s perfectly reasonable to explain that you don’t feel like talking about something in particular. If you do feel there are good parts to your illness, like things you’ve learned, try to share those.

Explaining your illness to a listener is an intense experience, and a personal decision. Practice in front of a mirror or with a licensed professional, like a therapist, who may be able to answer any concerns you have. Keep in mind that you need to prepare your listener, explain your illness, and ask for help.

Tune in next week for part three of this series: “Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part III: If.”

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Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part I: When

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Credit to flickr.com user Jennifer Mathis. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

[ Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV ]

How open are you about your mental illness? Have you been thinking about opening up to others? Read on to find out when to disclose that you have a mental illness.

When to Disclose

  1. When you’re well – You don’t want to wait until you’re in a dicey situation for the people around you to find out that you have a mental illness. Disclosing when you’ve got your illness under control will give the people you disclose to time to adjust to the fact that you suffer from a disorder.
  2. When you need people to understand – Sometimes, people who suffer from mental illnesses need special accommodations at work or school. Letting friends know the reason behind why you don’t want to hang out with them during a depressive spiral can prevent them from thinking you’ve grown distant. Telling people you have a mental illness is better when it serves a purpose.
  3. Not after a mass shooting – Unfortunately, people equate acts of mass violence with mental illness. The stigma is all too real. Disclosing your mental illness after someone who reportedly has a disorder commits an act of violence might cause the people you’re disclosing to to link your illness with the perpetrator’s.
  4. When you’re ready – Disclosing your mental illness to friends, family, or even an employer is an intensely personal decision. Write down exactly what you want to say, and practice your words, either in front of the mirror or with a licensed professional. Talking to a therapist about your concerns may help put your mind at ease.

All in all, disclosing your mental illness is a process, the start of which is completely up to you. Tune in next week for the second part in this series of three, “Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part II: How.”

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