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How to manage or get assistance when struggling with a mental condition.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 45 million people in America struggle with mental conditions each day. Many of them need some form of assistance when it comes to employment and financial needs as they often live on a lower income. Sometimes, the effects of mental conditions or a disability can be serious enough to make work impossible. At other times, they can simply slow you down by making it harder for you to concentrate, or think.

Mental conditions are not always readily perceptible to friends and colleagues or your employer. There are many conditions (depression, anxiety, bi-polar, etc.), some are more serious than others. Sometimes the lack of friends, family, or companies not knowing about a disability or conditions works in your favor. When people can't see that you have a problem, they can't discriminate against you. On the other hand, when people, your employer or say a boss don't understand that you have a mental illness, the difficulty that you have performing at work can make you look incompetent or lazy.

If you have a mental illness or disability, the law offers you some protections around employment. There are also regulations on how to get financial help, applying for SSI, and other resources. What follows are tips on how the law helps you, and how you can create strategies to survive a day of work when you don't feel well.

The different ways in which the law protects you from discrimination

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, you have the right to not disclose to your employer that you have a mental illness unless it directly affects your ability to do your job. Your potential employer can’t ask any medical questions during an interview or ask about mental disabilities, anxiety, depression, or other conditions. Your salary, and your income, also can’t be reduced because of a mental or physical disability – that is wage discrimination.

The Americans With Disabilities Act also indicates that the government (state or federal) can’t discriminate when you file for financial help, public assistance like SNAP food stamps, section 8 housing or any other benefits. Most charities also publicly state that anyone can apply for help, whether they have a mental disability, some minor condition, or other barrier. Laws protect Americans around employment and financially.




If an employer (or the company you are interviewing at for employment) learns that you have a mental illness, they cannot deny you a job for that reason, or fire you. They are also not allowed to apply stereotypes to you to discriminate against you. For instance, if you struggle with depression, your employer cannot assume that you won't do well with customers and deny you responsibilities for that reason. They also can’t offer you a lower salary due to a mental disability. They can only refuse you customer responsibilities if they have actual proof that you aren't doing well at your job.

Same thing with public aid. If a social service agency learns this, they can’t withhold government assistance (whether financial or something else) if you have a mental disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act protects those with mental conditions too.

You can ask your employer to be accommodating of your condition

When it comes to employment help, the Americans With Disabilities Act is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If you have a condition that greatly limits your ability to perform your duties, you have the right to look to your employer to accommodate you in some ways to enable you to work with your condition:

If you need time off to accept treatment, your employer should be willing to work around your requirements. This may mean giving you convenient shifts or allowing you to take a sick day when your condition deteriorates, on occasion.

If you get hurt or the conditions worsens, you can go on FMLA leave. This will allow you to get financial aid to help pay the bills, counseling, medical costs, food, and more. Find more details on emergency help from FMLA.

Some conditions tend to make people overly sensitive to certain environmental stimuli. People on the autism spectrum, for instance, sometimes tend to be very sensitive to noise. In these cases, you have the right to ask your employer for a quiet corner of the office, or for headphones to help you block noise out.

If your mental condition makes it hard for you to remember verbal instructions, you can ask that those instructions be delivered to you in writing.

If your work can be done remotely, you can ask your employer to grant you permission to work from home, even if other employees aren't usually allowed to do it. Or seek a position that allows this, as there are stress free work at home jobs for the disabled.

If you need some equipment to better do your job, your employer needs to do it within reason, such as making the employment space disability friendly (whether physical or mental).

It's important to remember that you need to talk to your boss about your condition and your needs before you are placed in a situation that makes it hard for you to work productively. But you don’t need to bring up any condition during the interview if it will not impact your performance and ability to do the job.

When struggling, ask for help. As if you don't ask for special accommodations, and your employer finds that you aren't working well, they may be justified in terminating you. But the company does need to follow state laws and regulations. if you think the employment was illegal and discriminatory, then talk to a free lawyer for assistance.

Tips on managing a mental condition, when the law doesn't provide adequate protection

The law only offers minimal workplace protections to people who suffer from mental conditions or some form of disability. For instance, the law doesn't require that your employer make you feel welcome when you ask for special accommodations. It can also be hard to get your boss to not pass you over when it's time for a promotion. With these challenges in mind, there are a few strategies that you can take up to help survive life in the workplace when you struggle with mental conditions.

Save repetitive tasks for the difficult days: If your job requires you to do both creative and repetitive work, it can help to do the creative work on the days that you feel up to it, and save repetitive work for the times that you feel low. You'll have a much easier time with your work when you set repetitive work aside for the most difficult days.

If it helps, ask to work from home: It can help to look for jobs that offer employees the choice of working from home. When you work from home, you'll be able to structure your work environment the way it suits you. But note you still need to do the job and meet expectations of your employer. Working from home can be especially convenient because it allows you to take time off when you feel overwhelmed.





Don't try to directly compete with your colleagues: You may have colleagues who are able to sit down and work with single-minded focus for three hours without being distracted. If you're unable to do the same yourself because your mind wanders or your mental disability or condition, or because you have to work on bringing your stress levels down every, now and then, you mustn't be hard on yourself. You work under different constraints than they do. As long as you're able to get the job done, it's all that should matter.

It's important to understand that there's no one right way to go about your work when you struggle with mental conditions. Sometimes, you will need to talk to your boss about special accommodations that you need to work productively, and at other times, you simply need to allow yourself time and space to feel better. Both approaches help you in different ways.

By Jon McNamara

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