Mental Health Conditions and Workplace Accommodations

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

Today on the blog, we are going to talk about three more common mental health conditions and what might be some reasonable workplace accommodations for each of those. Did you know that approximately 61.5 million Americans, one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2013)? One in seventeen individuals lives with a serious mental health impairment, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013). We see many different kinds of mental health conditions working in disability and higher education, but a majority of the conditions we primarily work with would be students with anxiety, depression, and/or different mood disorders.

There are a number of different functional areas that these conditions can impact such as concentration, attendance, focus, organization, memory, sleep, stress, handling emotions, fatigue, and coworker interactions just to name a few. The next few pieces of information are found on the Job Accommodation Network website and include many of those different areas that people with mental health conditions could be impacted in and what accommodations would help to reduce those barriers if need be.

Mental Health Reasonable Accommodation Ideas:

Concentration:

  • Reduce distractions in the work area:
    • Provide space enclosures, sound absorption panels, or a private office
    • Allow for use of white noise or environmental sound machines
    • Allow the employee to listen to soothing music
    • Plan for uninterrupted work time
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting
  • Allow flexible work environment:
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Modified break schedule
    • Work from home/Flexi-place
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Memory:

  • Provide written as well as verbal instructions
  • Provide written checklists
  • Use a wall calendar
  • Use a daily or weekly task list
  • Provide verbal prompts and reminders
  • Use electronic organizers, handheld devices, and /or apps
  • Provide a mentor for daily guidance
  • Provide reminders of important deadlines via e-mails, memos, and weekly supervision

Organization:

  • Use daily, weekly, and monthly task lists
  • Use calendar with automated reminders to highlight meetings and deadlines
  • Use electronic organizers, mobile devices, and/or apps
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Time Management / Completing Tasks:

  • Make daily TO-DO lists and check items off as they are completed
  • Provide organizational tools such as electronic schedulers, recorders, software organizers, calendars, watches, and apps
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Schedule weekly meetings with supervisor, manager, or mentor to determine if goals are being met

Stress / Emotions:

  • Encourage use of stress management techniques to deal with frustration
  • Allow the presence of a support animal
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
  • Use a mentor or supervisor to alert the employee when his/her behavior is becoming unprofessional or inappropriate
  • Assign a supervisor, manager, or mentor to answer the employee’s questions
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions during times of stress
  • Refer to counseling, employee assistance programs (EAP)
  • Provide backup coverage for when the employee needs to take breaks
  • Allow flexible work environment

Panic Attacks:

  • Allow the employee to take a break and go to a place where s/he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person
  • Identify and remove environmental triggers such as particular smells or noises
  • Allow the presence of a support animal

Sleep Disturbances:

  • Allow for a flexible start time
  • Combine regularly scheduled short breaks into one longer break
  • Provide a place for the employee to sleep during break
  • Allow the employee to work one consistent schedule
  • Provide a device such as a Doze Alert or other alarms to keep the employee alert
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting

Fatigue:

  • Allow flexible work environment:
  • Provide a goal-oriented workload
  • Reduce or eliminate physical exertion and workplace stress
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design

Attendance:

  • Allow flexible work environment:
  • Provide straight shift or permanent schedule
  • Allow the employee to make up the time missed
  • Modify attendance policy
    • Example: count one occurrence for all PTSD-related absences

Coworker Interaction:

  • Encourage the employee to walk away from frustrating situations and confrontations
  • Allow the employee to work from home part-time
  • Provide partitions or closed doors to allow for privacy
  • Provide disability awareness training to coworkers and supervisors

All in all, it is good rule of thumb to remember that people with mental health conditions or disabilities are just as capable of completing  tasks and doing an amazing job at whatever they may be working on – as there sometimes is stigma around these conditions due to lack of understanding, judgment, and being uneducated on the topic of mental health. If you are curious about learning more there are many great resources available to you on the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) website and Active Minds website about mental health conditions. Education, awareness, and understanding are key. We must not be afraid to talk openly about these conditions and encourage others to share their awesome stories. We all have something to say, so don’t be afraid to just simply listen.

Also read: #BulldogOnTheJob: Bri (she talks about experience with depression and anxiety and the impact those illnesses have on her professional life)

Read our other Disabilites in the Workplace posts.

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