With my new job starting, I thought I’d write a post about how I work when being so mentally ill, and whether I declare these mental illnesses as a disability under the ADA with my employer’s HR department.
We know I’ve always struggled with mental health stuff. Whether it’s the anxiety or depression, I’m usually crushed under the weight of one of them, caught in the tide of unbearable emotional baggage. And when you’ve always struggled, you learn how to handle these situations in public. Typically, that looked a lot like me politely excusing myself and crying in a bathroom stall.
Should I declare my mental illness as a disability?
The short answer:
This entirely up to personal preference, but my take is that you should always declare it on the form when you’re applying for a job. You don’t have to disclose what it is on that paperwork. At most, it’ll ask if you need any special accommodations. It’s illegal for an employer to deny you a position based on a disability like mental illness. I found that most people don’t even read that box, really.
By declaring it on paperwork, you’re leaving yourself open with options for later. More on this in the Pros section.
When not to declare
DON’T declare if you don’t know much about your illness, or if you haven’t been diagnosed with an illness. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have one but you should definitely reach out to a doctor to understand your symptoms and how to manage them. It’s also a must for if your employer has questions (which they will).
Employers suggesting you share about your illness with your co-workers or fellow employees.
Pretty obvious. A big consideration is what exactly you would need to share and with whom. Usually your manager is the first point of contact when you declare your disability, though in some cases I’ve worked directly with HR. If your manager thinks you need to share about your illness with your co-workers, take some time to consider if this will really benefit you. Keep in mind that it’s a suggestion, and they cannot make you share anything. For me, I treat it as a case by case basis, and usually err on the side of saying “I’ll address my disability with co-workers should the need arise but not until there has been a situation that requires it.”
Sharing is caring. Not when it’s my mental health.
People giving you (unsolicited) advice.
Part of the reason I don’t tell my co-workers, it they tend to give me all sorts of advice as to how I should handle my mental illness, and what I’m doing wrong. Everyone faces stress with work, right? Obviously the issue is that I just don’t know how to compartmentalize or relax, and if they offer me this epiphanal advice, I’ll magically become better.
Why didn’t I think of that.
People treating you like you’re breakable.
Similarly, one of the greatest fears we have is people treating us differently, that somehow having a mental illness makes us weak in some way. Of course this isn’t true, but it’s a genuine fear. I often worry that people will act like I’m overly fragile, or be overly sensitive to how they act or what they say around me. I don’t want people to make a big deal about my mental illness, because while it is a part of me, it’s not me.
Employers asking (illegal) questions.
This is a big one that I want to touch on as it’s one that I’ve faced personally. Actually, I’ve faced all of these personally, but that’s not the point. Employers can only ask questions about your disability, or for documentation of the disability if you’re asking for accommodations. Please read up on the ADA and understand your rights, and what appropriate questions your employer is allowed to ask.
THINGS THEY CAN ASK
How does your disability affect your ability to perform the essential functions of this position?
Will your disability affect your coworkers and those around you in the workplace?
What special accommodations will you need?
THINGS THEY CANNOT ASK
What is your disability?
When did it start / for how long has it been a problem?
What caused it?
An example is having a service animal go to work with you in a typically pet-free office, or attending counseling/therapy sessions during work. It helps create an atmosphere of support, honesty and acceptance, which is generally a more healthy work environment.
If you’re suffering from a mental illness/disability as defined as the ADA, you’re eligible for a service dog or service animal. Specifically, these would be psychiatric service animals, trained to perform tasks which might help with dissociation, triggers, reminding to take medication, safety checks, turning on lights, interrupting self-harm etc. Keep in mind by law, you are not required to have your service animal certified. Please note that the ADA only covers dogs and miniature horses as service animals, but state and city/county laws may include other animals.
“Laws prohibit employment discrimination because of a disability. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation. Allowing an individual with a disability to have a service animal or an emotional support animal accompany them to work may be considered an accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the employment provisions of the ADA (Title I), does not have a specific regulation on service animals.7 In the case of a service animal or an emotional support animal, if the disability is not obvious and/or the reason the animal is needed is not clear, an employer may request documentation to establish the existence of a disability and how the animal helps the individual perform his or her job.
Documentation might include a detailed description of how the animal would help the employee in performing job tasks and how the animal is trained to behave in the workplace. A person seeking such an accommodation may suggest that the employer permit the animal to accompany them to work on a trial basis.
Both service and emotional support animals may be excluded from the workplace if they pose either an undue hardship or a direct threat in the workplace.”
—ADA, emphasis added
As a side note, your employer is only allowed to ask you what the animal is trained to do. They’re not allowed to ask what your disability is.
An accommodation could be made to allow you to leave work early to attend a weekly therapy session, or changing your schedule / hours to allow for therapy sessions.
Not being treated like a robot
We’ve all heard or have some horror stories about companies who have unrealistic expectations in regards to workload. By declaring your mental illness, you’re able to give context and set boundaries in the work place.
Integrity, acceptance and community
When we reach out, we develop a support network of caring individuals who want to help us be the best versions of ourselves. By declaring our illness, we’re able to cultivate an environment that’s built on open communication and honesty. We’re not hiding who we are, either in part or as a whole, and that’s a pretty good feeling, really.
You can find more information about what the ADA covers in regards to title I here.
Hope this helps and ake care, Annime-niac!