Mental Health in the Workplace

At the NAMI-New York State Educational Conference on November 12:

I talked quickly about my experience with disclosure on the job and requesting a reasonable accommodation under the ADA Act.

Absolutely if you need a job modification you should ask for one because this is a legally-required benefit that employers have to accommodate.

Under this national law you can obtain an accommodation:

When it doesn’t present an undue hardship on the operation of the business and when the employer is aware of the disability.

At the panelist talk after the lunch on Saturday the topic was Mental Health in the Workplace.

You should know that a lot of companies offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

This is where you can talk with a counselor before your stress gets out of hand or when the stress has gotten unbearable either way.

One of the panelists talked about how things are different now.

Like her, I’m a GenX-er–a member of Generation X.

We remember that in the 1990s you weren’t supposed to leave the office at five o’clock on the dot. You were supposed to work overtime and not supposed to leave before your boss left.

The expression to describe this dynamic was that when your employer asked you to jump you were supposed to respond: “How high?”–and jump higher to prove your worth.

Now of course long-term job security isn’t guaranteed.

The female panelist remarked that Millenials are game changers because they’re doing work aligned with their values.

They’re not staying late on the job because they prize their life–and most likely want to preserve their sanity.

The recent economic downturn most likely has given Millenials¬† the confidence to say: “We’re not guaranteed to fatten our bank accounts so why break our backs for an ungrateful employer?”

There’s a reason Google and other firms have a massage therapist and dry-cleaner on campus: they want to keep you at the office.

This has been the trend: being expected to answer from home work e-mails at midnight.

No. No. No. Taking Back Sunday shouldn’t just be the title of a rock band–it should be the manifesto of workers everywhere: we’re not going to take this intrusion into our private lives.

As a GenX=er I’ll end here with this: it might be useful and necessary to have a second job of some kind to bring in extra money.

Instead of working every night until 9:00 p.m. for an employer that won’t give you any extra money.

Peg Bundy–the wife on the TV sitcom Married with Children once said:

“If I wanted peanuts, I’d fly Delta.”

I will talk in the coming blog entries about more hopeful employment news. I will give a list of must-read career books too.

It IS possible to love your job, love [most of] your co-workers, and love your paycheck.




Creating Secret Accommodations

At least five years ago I researched ADA Act accommodations. The SAMHSA Website had a trove of information about the topic back then.

Though I’m no fan of SAMHSA their information did redeem them as a government agency.It was one of the better functions of this agency.

A guy was interviewed who said he created his own accommodations and didn’t tell anyone else. No one was any wiser. He was able to get his job done.

Employers were quoted as saying they would give an accommodation to any employee not just a person with a mental health challenge.

What I’ve done–and this is going to sound heretic–so do this at your own risk–is take a break away from the building. I’ve gone outside to talk on my cell phone. I’ve gone to Starbucks for a hot chocolate on one job.

You have to be careful what you do on the job–logging onto Facebook from your employer’s computer is often frowned upon. Oh–people will do this. You shouldn’t.

This is why I recommend buying a smart phone with a data plan for Internet service. Do what you want to do from your cell phone.

Check your company’s policy about how long you can take a break and how often and when you can do this throughout the workday.

Some of us aren’t allowed to go outside the building on our breaks. So pretend I didn’t say I went to Starbucks.

In reality management might not care a lot what their employees do. Supervisors might turn a blind eye on whatever goes on. Which is why you should be careful in the ways that count when you’re working on a job.

In a long-term research study of sustained employment of individuals with mental health conditions participants listed these and other coping skills for stress on the job:

praying or reading the bible, exercising, talking to a support person on the telephone, going to a quiet room, taking medication if necessary, and having a snack.

Talking on your cell phone to a friend outside the building for 10 minutes can do the trick. And if you’re allowed to go outside on a break and on lunch hour I say: do this.

Again I will always stress that exceeding your employer’s expectations can often tip the scales in your favor at your performance review. With such accolades you can often succeed in requesting a modification to your job.

This sounds like it’s not right yet that’s how it is. You might think that if a rude co-worker is held up as a shining model employee that you can slack off in your job and be given credit. It doesn’t work this way. It’s always the other person not you that will be lauded over.

I wouldn’t risk slacking off on a job. Not if you want to succeed at holding a job in today’s wildly fluctuating economic environment.

Exceed your employer’s expectations. Then you might be able to get yourself a Frappuccino. Any questions?


Types of Accommodations on the Job

You can legally use 40 hours per year to take off sick to care for a family member where I live in New York City.

The FMLA–Family Medical Leave Act–is a national law that allows a person to take up to three months off for a health condition.

I once told a woman she shouldn’t have gone into a hospital–she should’ve used the time to go on vacation or to go to a spa instead. This because she had confessed going into the hospital hadn’t really helped her.

If a person absolutely needs to go into a hospital by all means they should do it without delay. They should have an explanation for why they took time off from the job.

On the job if you ask me it helps to frame requesting a reasonable accommodation thus:

“I want to exceed your expectations for what I can do. To do this I will need an accommodation. Here’s what I think might work. How does this sound to you?”

You tell HR–the Human Resources Department staff member–and can tell your immediate supervisor that you need an accommodation. Ordinary coworkers don’t have to know and often shouldn’t know about this. They might think you’re a slacker who can’t do the work and is trying to get out of doing your fair share.

Thus it might be better and more helpful to frame the request in terms of a functional limitation not in terms of a diagnosis. I would go so far as to refrain from calling it a functional impairment. I would use the word limitation instead.

Here’s the deal: so-called normal people get accommodations on the job for all sorts of reasons not having to do with illness. And their bosses don’t blanch to give them these modifications.

A co-worker can request and be granted a different schedule–coming in earlier and leaving later–to take Hebrew lessons.

Another co-worker could take a longer lunch to go shoe shopping and no one else knows this not even the boss. In fact Penelope Trunk The Brazen Careerist talked years ago about taking longer lunches.

It might be a function of having a creative job or other kind of job that is not in an office. This is why I’ll always recommend non-traditional work for those of us with an MH challenge who would wither and die working in a cubicle in a job with narrowly defined duties and a power hierarchy.

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about why we shouldn’t limit ourselves or accept the boxes others try to place us in.

Requesting A Reasonable Accommodation

At the NAMI-New York State Educational Conference on Saturday, November 12 I will talk about requesting a reasonable accommodation on the job.

You can go on AskJAN to figure out what kind of accommodations you could request linked to different kinds of functional impairments you might have.

The ADA Act is clear that giving an accommodation cannot create an undue hardship on the operation of the business. The employee also still has to be able to perform the job duties. It is not a Get Out of Work Free card like a Get Out of Jail Free card in a Monopoly game.

The purpose of asking for an accommodation is precisely so that you can succeed in your job alongside co-workers who don’t have an impairment.

My take on this is that you should strive to excel not turn in the bare minimum that’s acceptable for an employee.

Coco Chanel the famous clothing designer is quoted:

“To be irreplaceable you must be different.”

You might scoff that you shouldn’t have to be twice as good to be taken seriously.

Wait a minute. Everyone has to be twice as good regardless of whether or not they have a mental health challenge.

Being twice as good on a job might just get you a free pass on your performance review.

All things being equal being twice as good comes in handy when you have to request a reasonable accommodation too.

You might think this is unfair yet this is how the world of work works.

I will be talking about the specifics of requesting an accommodation at the NAMI-New York State Educational Conference on Saturday, November 12.

The bottom line as I see it: if you need an accommodation on the job it’s better to ask for it as soon as you think you need one rather than waiting until you’re in dire straits.

Be grateful. We live in America. We have the opportunity to work at a job with this kind of legally-sanctioned help.

Schziophrenia and Employment

A recent Guardian newspaper report stated only 8 percent of people diagnosed with schizophrenia are employed in the UK. Knowing this it’s foolish that the Mad People advocate that everyone discontinue their medication. No employer wants to hire a person going through numerous psychotic episodes let alone one.

Even a guy I met who is now a companion thinks most people diagnosed with schizophrenia need medication–and this person doesn’t take medication.

I’m Calabrese–so I’m a testa dura that is hard head–in stubbornly advocating that getting the right treatment right away results in a better outcome. That treatment might require or might not require medication either way.

My point is that I got help within 24 hours and have always taken a low dose. I’ve taken the pills for going on 29 years without health issues linked to the dose or type of pill.

I’m also a Realist–I know that historically most people have had an 8.5 year delay between first experiencing schizophrenia symptoms and getting treatment–according to a June 2008 NAMI study.

This can make succeeding at a job when you have symptoms quite a challenge. Yet I’ve known people diagnosed with schizophrenia who hear voices and held jobs. One guy retired from work when he neared 60.

I do make the case for requesting reasonable accommodations if you must be given them to excel at your job.

First of all I recommend figuring out your ideal careers using assessments like the MBTI, Kolbe A Index, Archtypes quiz, and Career Matchmaker quiz, along with StrengthsFinder 2.0–to be a sleuth and track down jobs or careers that are a good fit with your temperament.

You can Google any of these tests to try to take them on the Internet.

Creating your own accommodations that don’t require getting permission to have them is also an option a lot of people with a diagnosis do.

Upwards of 75 percent of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia want to work and think they can work. That was the focus of my first My Voice column for the Winter 2016 issue of SZ magazine–the Internet recovery resource for schizophrenia.

See if any of what I’ve written and will continue to write makes sense to you.

In the next blog entry I’m going to talk about what can happen when a person really can’t hold a job.


I had wanted to talk about the Americans with Disabilities Act–“ADA.”

It gives people with a functional impairment the right to obtain reasonable accommodations on the job so that they can be able to do the job alongside workers who don’t have a disability. The catch is that granting the accommodation can’t create an undue hardship on the running of the business.

You ask for an accommodation at the point you need it–not in the interview–at the point when you’ve started the job or down the road when you start to experience a hardship. A friend and I think that if you can do the job as well or better than your co-workers the diagnosis is nobody’s business.

I’ve read an article in the print version of SZ magazine years ago that took a let-it-all-hang-out approach to disclosure when the people interviewed answered the question.

Not so fast. If people responding to a woman’s Internet article in a comments section are scathing about her attempt to remain employed when she has a diagnosis–how do you think it’s going to be on the job when co-workers respond to this.

I make the case for thinking long and hard how you frame your request for an accommodation if you want to do this. My take would be along the line of telling your HR department:

“I want to do the best job possible. I would like to exceed as well. I’ll need an adjustment. Can I tell you what I”d like to do and you tell me how we can proceed?”

The point is the ADA is NOT a ticket like in a Monopoly game of work where you’re handed a “Get Out of Work Free” card like avoiding jail time.

I make the case for figuring out your own accommodations and using them on your own with no one else being any wiser. Years ago I read on the SAMHSA website about accommodations people made on the job that their employers didn’t know about.

Log on to the ASKJan website to discover the myriad of accommodations you can make according to your functional limitation. This is the government’s Job Accommodation Network that has been on the Internet for at least 12 years now no kidding.

Take advantage of JAN it’s a free service.

The woman who wrote the Internet article about barely squeaking by on a job in corporate America in an office did have one valid point: I think corporate America is not as kind to people with disabilities as other work environments are.

One person who commented got it right: the job is not a support group. I say to get feedback go to an actual peer support group. Your co-workers are not the ones to flood with your mental health issues like a fire hose going off. True: I still think it’s dice-y to disclose on the job because trust is a factor.

Disclosing on the job has cost one person I know a promotion.

The woman who wrote the article had trouble staying awake all day. I recommend that if you get drowsy during the day to see about switching your dose time. As soon as I took most of the dose at night and a tiny dose in the morning I was wide awake every day and had no side effects.

Before discontinuing your medication (I don’t advise that) you can see if your pdoc thinks changing the dose time would help halt daytime drowsiness.

This is the last secret: finding an open environment on the job can make it easier for you to get an accommodation when you’re drowsy or have a symptom.

I’m going to talk in the next blog entry about hiring practices.