Women at table talkingFor many with mental illness, finding a job is not easy and can take more than one attempt to find the right fit. Finding and maintaining employment can feel like a lonely and complicated journey, but you don't have to do it alone. Learn how reasonable accommodations and the ADA can support individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace.

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Employment Supports for People with Invisible Disabilities

Jul 21, 2021

Women at table talkingWhether you're looking for a job or already have one, if you're one of more than 50 million U.S. adults who live with a mental illness, the workplace can be a challenging environment. Searching for the right job can take several tries. Once in the workforce, you may worry about being treated differently by an employer or coworker or fear losing your job if you choose to disclose your disability. The good news is that you have rights.

For three decades, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has opened doors for people with disabilities, protecting them from discrimination in all areas of their daily lives, including the workplace. Whether you have an observable disability or an invisible one, this law helps you access the same employment opportunities and benefits as individuals without disabilities. Not only are you protected from discrimination based on your disability, you may also be able to seek reasonable accommodations so that you can participate in the job application process, perform the essential functions of a job or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities.

Mental Health in the Workplace

Your mental health, including emotional, psychological, and social well-being, can affect how you think, feel and act. Your mental health also affects your responses to stress and how you interact with others at work. Similar to people with physical disabilities and health conditions, people with mental health conditions may need support and can request reasonable accommodations to help them succeed in the workplace.

But how do you know if your mental health condition qualifies as a disability protected by the ADA? According to the National ADA Network, a disability is any physical or mental health impairment that significantly limits one or more of your major life activities. If your mental illness makes it difficult for you to perform important tasks at work, accommodations such as adjusting your work environment or the way you perform a task can allow you to better perform the essential functions of the job.

For example, someone navigating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may struggle with anxiety and have difficulty focusing and making decisions at work. This can be stressful because they never know when their symptoms will show up. To help manage such stress, workplace accommodations could include requesting written instructions to help address memory issues or modifying the break schedule to accommodate a therapy appointment.

Concerned About Workplace Discrimination?

Discrimination can come in many forms and people with disabilities are vulnerable to workplace discrimination – both when applying for a job and once they have a job.

Ticket Program service providers, like State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, Employment Networks (EN) and Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) offer resources that may be helpful to you.

Here are other resources that may be able to help if you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace:

Other examples of workplace accommodations for individuals with mental health conditions include:

  • Allowing noise-cancelling headphones to help reduce distracting noises
  • Having access to apps for anxiety and stress
  • Using wall planners or a color-coded system to help with time management and managing confusion
  • Discussing flexible scheduling or options for working from home

How Can I Request Reasonable Accommodations?

In order to receive an accommodation, you'll need to discuss your disability with your employer, but talking about disclosure doesn't have to be difficult. If you have a mental health condition and want to work, knowing your symptoms will help you communicate your needs. To have a productive discussion with your employer or future employer, think about:

  • The part(s) of your job you're having difficulty with due to your mental illness
  • How your disability makes it difficult for you to perform these tasks
  • Your recommendations for potential solutions

The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause the employer significant difficulty or expense. When you decide to disclose your disability to your employer, keep it simple. You don't have to explain every detail. You can talk to your supervisor, HR representative or ADA coordinator and also put your request in writing to document your request.

If you have additional concerns about mental health support and maintaining employment while coping with mental illness, find out if your employer has an employee assistance program (EAP) that allows you access to mental health professionals and counseling. EAPs also offer tools for identifying triggers, tips for stress management and general coping skills. EAPs are usually offered at no cost to you as the employee; however, there may be a limited number of sessions available.

How Ticket to Work Can Help

Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) Program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI/SSI) and want to work. The Ticket Program is free and voluntary. If you're eligible, it connects you with free employment services to help you decide if working is right for you, prepare for work, find a job or be successful while you are working.

The Ticket Program can connect you with service providers who offer a wide variety of employment services to support people with disabilities in all stages of their employment journey. Service providers like Employment Networks (EN) and State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies can answer your questions and help you consider reasonable accommodations as you look for work and transition to the workplace. Service providers can also make you aware of Work Incentives you may qualify for, like Expedited Reinstatement that can help with concerns about finding and maintaining employment. Your service provider can become an important part of your support network, providing you with the informational support and confidence you need to achieve your goals of sustained employment and financial independence while managing your mental health.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket Program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket Program Find Help tool.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket Program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket Program Find Help tool.

Receive Ticket Program Texts

If you're interested in receiving text messages from the Ticket Program, please text TICKET to 474747. Standard messaging rates may apply. We'll send updates from our blog, identify steps on the path to employment and more. We hope you'll find this new way to stay in touch helpful. You can opt out at any time.

If you're interested in receiving text messages from the Ticket Program, please text TICKET to 474747. Standard messaging rates may apply. We'll send updates from our blog, identify steps on the path to employment and more. We hope you'll find this new way to stay in touch helpful. You can opt out at any time.

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