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Depression and other mental illnesses in the workplace

The recent tragic death of beloved comedic actor Robin Williams – who notably battled with depression and substance abuse issues for years – has brought a new national attention to the importance of a free and open dialogue about mental health. Though the goal of removing the stigma from any discussion of mental illness is a laudable one, the fact remains that such stigma does exist in many societal circles, among them the workplace.

Technically, discrimination or mistreatment of workers on the basis of a mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other conditions is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nonetheless, many people are afraid to disclose mental disorders to superiors and colleagues for fear of mistreatment, social isolation or being passed over for advancement.

A recent Scientific American expose reveals that, in the United States alone, depression results in 200 million missed workdays each year and costs employers roughly $31 billion in lost productivity annually. If your depression or other mental illness was brought about by your employment, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Even if it wasn't directly caused by your job, instead being the product of a rough childhood or traumatic event, you may be entitled to reasonable accommodations to make it easier to do your job while managing your condition.

Some companies have adopted progressive mental health policies aimed at removing the stigma and encouraging workers to seek behavioral health care if it is needed, but those businesses are few and far between. Only time will tell if the nation will reach a point where more people feel confident enough to disclose their mental illnesses in the workplace without fear of reprisal.

Source: Scientific American, “Should You Tell Your Boss About a Mental Illness?” Roni Jacobson, August 14, 2014.

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