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Mental illness in the workplace....

Posted Oct 22 2008 6:16pm

Mental illness in the workplace.
First, sorry about the length of time since the last post; I was out of town and away from a computer during much of August. Now, on to the topic du jour:

I had a major head start on the track to career success, in terms of everything from academic success and quality of education to connections and native intelligence (at least as measured by standardized tests like the SAT and IQ tests). But today, at 43, I'm dismayed by the state of my career; I'm nowhere near as successful as I imagined I'd be at this age back in my 20s. This is partly the result of choices I made -- but it's also a result of my panic disorder and the agoraphobia that has intermittently been part of it since it started nearly 20 years ago. Over the years, I've passed up countless career opportunities because I couldn't imagine making the daily commute they'd require, and have left a number of jobs during panicky periods in my life because going to and staying at work each day had become too difficult. For this reason, I'm very interested in panic (in particular) and mental illness (in general) in the workplace.

With that in mind: USA Today recently ran an article claiming that employers today are becoming more accomodating of employees with mental illnesses. According to the article, "[u]ntreated mental illness costs the USA $105 billion in lost productivity each year, with U.S. employers footing up to $44 billion of the bill," and corporate America is paying more each year to settle charges of violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects some with mental illnesses. As a result, many businesses have ramped up mental-health insurance coverage and programs -- but insurance coverage for mental illness typically is not as robust as it is for physical health problems. Of employees with mental health problems, one expert cited by the article says, "These people go to work, but they're the working wounded."

Another article discusses the stigma often attached to mental illness in the workplace. To wit: "According to the Canadian Psychiatric Association, people with a mental illness suffer more stigmatization in the workplace than those with other disabilities, and are more likely to come up against long-term disability and under/unemployment."

Employers and employees alike will benefit from reading a booklet on mental health in the workplace (.pdf) published by the Canadian Mental Health Association. It discusses everything from the pros and cons of revealing mental health problems to employers and coworkers and steps employees can take to keep their careers on track to tips for employers of people with mental illnesses.

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