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Mental Illness Employment Guide: Tips to Finding a Job and Navigating the Workplace

Work is an important part of most people’s lives, providing them with economic stability and a sense of purpose in the world. But when you’re struggling with mental illness, it can feel almost impossible to find a job that meets your needs without burning you out. If you’re looking for a new job, it can also be a challenge to settle on a career that will be personally fulfilling and financially rewarding, while also making accommodations for your mental illness. 

In the workplace, mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders can seem like “invisible illnesses” that come with their own unique challenges at work and beyond. Making matters worse, there’s often a stigma attached to mental illness that can make it difficult to talk openly with your employer in order to get the support and resources you need. When you find yourself in a workplace or on a career path that is ill-suited to your particular needs, it can even exacerbate your mental illness and have a negative impact on your overall health.

While dealing with mental illness may seem like a job in and of itself, there are a variety of jobs for mentally ill people that are not only well-suited to their particular challenges and skill sets, but can even help improve their mental health! Read on for more tips of job searching with a disability, knowing your rights as an employee, navigating the workplace with a mental illness, and more.

Psychiatric Disability, Mental Illness, and the ADA

Although there is sometimes still a stigma surrounding mental illness, it’s important to remember that psychiatric and mental disorders are disabilities. Individuals with mental illnesses are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in any area of life, including employment. According to the ADA, disabled individuals should be able to access the same employment opportunities as people without disabilities. They are also entitled to reasonable accommodations related to their disabilities.

According to the ADA, about 44 million adults experience some form of mental illness, making mental health issues one of the most common workplace disabilities. Some common forms of mental illness may include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other illnesses or mood disorders. Despite their ubiquity, however, mental illnesses are often misunderstood, and can lead to workplace complications if they’re not properly addressed.

If you’re a job-seeker struggling with mental illness or another disability, it’s a good idea to know your rights. Potential employers are prohibited from discriminating against you on the basis of your disability or psychiatric history, and aren’t allowed to fail to hire, demote, or otherwise punish a candidate or employee because of a history of mental illness. Furthermore, they are required to provide reasonable accommodations for any disabled employee, as long as it doesn’t represent an undue hardship for the employer.

Disclosing a Mental Health Condition

In order to benefit from the protections put in place by the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are a few things job seekers should keep in mind as they navigate the application process. One of the most important things to remember is that individuals aren’t required to disclose their disability to a potential employer. Refraining from telling a potential employer about mental illness or disability is a legally protected choice.

If a job requires a medical exam before you begin work, the exam may alert employers to mental illness or psychiatric disability. Employers still aren’t allowed to discriminate against potential new hires based on this disability, unless it interferes with the essential functions of the job, or if no reasonable accommodation is possible.

In the workplace, you don’t have to disclose a psychiatric disability unless you’re asking for an accommodation, in which case employers may ask for medical documentation regarding your disability. This information is confidential and can’t be shared with anyone else in the workplace. While you’re definitely within your rights to disclose your disability or to ask for an accommodation in order to help you better accomplish your job, it’s not always necessary, unless your disability is directly affecting your performance or your job is interfering with your mental health.

Reasonable Accommodations for Psychiatric Disabilities

If you do decide to ask for an accommodation, think about what areas of work your disability might impact, and reflect on what specific accommodations might best serve your needs. It’s a good idea to start thinking about asking for an accommodation, before your performance at work begins to suffer due to lack of accommodation.

When asking for an accommodation, remember to focus on things that will help to improve your job performance. This could include occasionally working from home or telecommuting, changing your schedule to better suit your needs, working part-time, or taking breaks. They may also include physical modifications to the workplace such as increased natural light, decreased noise and distractions, or assistive technology to help you better fulfill your responsibilities on the job.

Most reasonable accommodations are specific to the needs of each individual, so there’s no one size fits all approach to psychiatric disability in the workplace. Instead, the best course of action is usually to come up with an individualized plan of action that takes into account your specific strengths, needs, and challenges.

Work From Home Options for Mental Health Accommodation

If you’re struggling with mental illness in the workplace, remote work can be a great option to help mitigate stressful interactions and help manage any potential symptoms of a psychiatric disability. In recent years, innovations in technology have made remote work more and more common, with some companies even choosing to hire entirely remote teams.

In the workplace, reasonable accommodations can sometimes be difficult due to their specific nature, as well as due to the shifting and changing nature of many mental illnesses. Working from home or at another remote location often allows employees to have more control over their immediate environment, and to be better able to deal with any potential stressors or distractions. While there are many benefits to remote work, it’s important to acknowledge some typical downsides, particularly for those struggling with a psychiatric disability. If you’re considering working from home, make sure that you also get enough time outside and sufficient interaction with other people to meet your needs.

Remote work can provide greater flexibility, autonomy, and control, making it an ideal solution for those struggling from unpredictable bouts of mental illness. If your employer doesn’t typically allow remote work or telecommuting, consider asking to work remotely part of the time. If you’re on the job hunt, it’s a good idea to take a look at companies that prioritize and even celebrate the many benefits of remote work.

Best Jobs For People With Mental Illness

While everyone’s needs are different, there are a wide variety of careers that may be well-suited to someone with a psychiatric or mental health problem. These careers can be lucrative and fulfilling, while also providing accommodations that help those with psychiatric disabilities flourish. Unless otherwise noted, all of the following information and statistics come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

Writer

  • Benefits: A job as a writer allows you flexibility, creativity, and a wide range of subject areas in which to practice your craft.
  • Average Salary: $62,000
  • Education and Skills Required: BA
  • Outlook: Writing is a steady career path, with writers in areas like marketing, entertainment, technical writing and more always in need.

Librarian

  • Benefits: If you enjoy quiet, organization, and helping people, a job as a librarian might be just the thing for you!
  • Average Salary: $59,000
  • Education and Skills Required: MA
  • Outlook: As libraries continue to function as public spaces that also offer education, community, and technological services in addition to books, librarians are in steady demand.

Computer Programmer

  • Benefits: Computer Programmers can enjoy a flexible, creative job in relative solitude.
  • Average Salary: $84,000
  • Education and Skills Required: BA
  • Outlook: While computer programming jobs are in a slight decline after a surge of people interested in this career, stellar programming skills can set you ahead in the field.

Trade Jobs

  • Benefits: Like working with your hands? Trade jobs offer steady employment and an alternative path to that of an office job.
  • Average Salary: $47,000
  •  Education and Skills Required: High school degree and trade school
  • Outlook: Trade jobs continue to increase each year.

Job Search Tips

When looking for a new job, it’s important to consider how your psychiatric disability might impact your work life. It’s a good idea to try to avoid jobs that are stressful or prone to triggering a strong negative reaction. If you know that there are particular activities that you dread doing, like talking on the phone or performing repetitive tasks, try to avoid jobs that you know might focus on these activities.

While you should try to avoid extremely stressful situations when possible, some level of stress and challenge is necessary in any job. For those struggling with mental illness, there are plenty of jobs out there that can balance the demands of the job with an environment that has a positive impact on your mental health!

Resume and Interview Tips

When applying for jobs, you may not always feel ready or prepared, especially if you’re dealing with a psychiatric disability. While it might be initially scary to apply and interview for jobs when you feel like you’re not at your best, it’s often the best strategy when it comes to job hunting and future employment. Even when you’re feeling down, continue to apply for jobs and attend interviews to the best of your ability. Learning to live with your disability and recognize your needs can be an important step in achieving success in work and in life!

Mental Health Organizations and Additional Resources

General information on psychiatric disabilities, mental health, and the workplace:

 Job Boards for People With Disabilities: