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Protected from Losing Your Job Due to a Mental Health Condition
For months you have been struggling with the gray cloud of depression hanging over every facet of your daily life. And what a struggle it has been! It seems that depression touches everything, disrupting relationships to messing with your ability to eat, sleep, and think normally. Now, to add to the pain of a depressive disorder, it appears you fear you may be losing your job.
Wondering, “Am I losing my job due to depression?” brings up some serious questions. Could it be that an employer can terminate someone who is dealing with a mental health disorder? Is that even legal? Isn’t it discriminatory to fire someone who is suffering from depression? When pondering these questions it helps to understand that the answers are not necessarily black or white. There are certain conditions that apply, so becoming familiar with the best protocol for dealing with depression at work is essential.
Can it be? I Am I Losing my Job due to Depression?
Maybe you haven’t been working at an optimal level since the depression kicked in. Possibly you have had to call in sick a few times because of it. But if you are beginning to wonder, “Am I losing my job due to depression,” it is wise to be proactive. After all, your employer cannot read your mind. If they have no knowledge of the mental health struggle they may just assume you are falling down on the job.
When an individual finds themselves mired in a major depressive episode to the point it is impacting their ability to be productive at work, there are steps that should be taken to protect employment status. The first thing to do is to see a doctor. This provides a paper trail documenting the mental health issue, which can come in handy later. If the individual decides to request special accommodations later, they will have documentation of the mental health condition behind the request.
Some may worry about disclosing the condition to an employer, fearing reprisal or stigma-related repercussions later, but if depression is causing someone to miss work or underperform it is the only sure way to protect job security. If the employer is not informed they are not bound by the American with Disabilities Act.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
Back in 2008 the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was amended to include mental health in the list of disabilities that could not be discriminated against in the workplace. If the private company has 15 or more employees, they are not permitted to terminate someone due to their mental health condition. According to the language in the ADA an individual may qualify for a disability protection if they:
- Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and/or bodily functions. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for yourself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
- Have a history of such an impairment
- Are regarded as having such an impairment
Additionally, the mental impairment must be considered a long-term condition, versus a temporary bout of sadness due to a recent life event. The term “long-term” refers to a mental health condition that has existed for several months. This does not have to be a continual problem, but could include flare-ups of the condition on occasion. The mental impairment must be a psychological condition that is included in the DSM-5, such as an anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and panic disorder.
Should I Disclose my Depression to my Employer?
There are valid reasons for hesitating about disclosing a mental health condition to one’s employer. Employees may be concerned about being passed up for future promotions or becoming somehow marginalized due to lingering stigma that could result from being honest about the situation. However, to truly protect one’s job while struggling with depression, it is essential to make the employer aware of the problem. This is the only way the employer will be able to understand why work performance or attendance is suffering. Employers are not permitted to ask an employee about their mental health, so it is up to the employee to provide the information.
Once the employer has been informed of the mental health condition, the employee is protected by the ADA if the depression is considered a long-term condition. In some cases, the HR representative will require documentation from the employee’s mental health provider. Once informed, an employer is forbidden to discriminate against the employee. Employers are trained to create an environment where the employee feels comfortable asking for assistance or accommodation instead of directly confronting the employee.
How to Negotiate Workplace Accommodations
Under the federal ADA legislation, an employer must make reasonable accommodations for the employee with a disability that impacts their ability to perform on the job as long as the accommodations do not impose a significant expense or hardship for the employer. In many cases, an employee who is going through a depressive episode can request flexible scheduling, additional breaks, the option to telecommute, breaking down large projects into smaller parts, or providing a more private workspace.
It is always a good idea to make a request for accommodations in writing. This provides a record of the request to the employer that communicates the need for some form of accommodation for the mental health condition. Employers are not required to meet these specific requests per se, but are expected to find some type of solution to help the employee out.
If the employer was informed of the depression diagnosis and makes every effort to accommodate an employee who is suffering from depression, but the employee continues to underperform and miss work, the employer may be safe to terminate the person without legal repercussions. In this event, the employee wondering, “Am I losing my job due to depression” may be correct, that the condition has continued to negatively impact the employer even though they have made every reasonable accommodation.
Signs of Depression
When an individual is experiencing a major depressive disorder it will usually become evident through a decline in work performance, productivity, or attendance. Depression symptoms include:
- Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or despair
- Sleep problems
- Change in eating habits, sudden weight gain or weight loss
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feelings of inappropriate guilt or shame
- Slowed motor or cognitive functioning
- Suicidal ideation
The DSM-5 stipulates that 5 or more of the above symptoms that persist most of the time for two weeks or longer warrants a clinical diagnosis of depression. There are various subtypes of depression, including:
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Premenopausal dysphoric disorder
- Bipolar depression
- Psychotic depression
Comprehensive Depression Treatment
Depression is a serious mental health disorder that requires psychiatric intervention. In most cases the individual will initially receive a diagnosis and treatment from their private health practitioner or a referred local psychiatrist. Outpatient treatment for depression includes antidepressant drug therapy and psychotherapy. Antidepressants are designed to regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin, hopefully providing symptom relief.
Some of the types of evidence-based psychotherapy used in depression retreat include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a short-term therapy that assists patients in recognizing self-defeating thought distortions and reshaping them toward more positive, affirming thoughts while also modifying the responsive behaviors. Modifying negative self-talk is essential in depression recovery.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Helps patients practice mindfulness, how to regulate emotions, how to better cope with stress, and teaches healthy interpersonal skills. DBT is a very proactive, actionable type of therapy.
- Psychodynamic Therapy: Focuses on unresolved emotional pain due to past events, trauma, or childhood upbringing. Psychodynamic therapy is usually a longer term therapy that spends a good amount of time examining childhood experiences and how they impact adult life.
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): Also a short-term therapy that focuses on improving interpersonal relationship interactions, social skills, and helps identify problem areas that might be contributing to depression.
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): Combines cognitive therapy with the meditative practice called mindfulness to manage negative thoughts. This modality is designed to specifically help individuals who struggle with repeated, relapsing depressive disorder.
In addition to these core treatment elements optional , the doctor may advise the patient to include regular exercise in their routine, to avoid alcohol, and to get adequate sleep.
If the outpatient interventions become inadequate, or if the individual is experiencing suicidal thoughts, a more intensive type of treatment is warranted. Residential mental health programs provide 24-hour monitoring and allow the individual to reside at the center and focus on their recovery without the triggers or stressors of daily life. Residential care is highly individualized, providing a wide range of therapeutic activities in an integrated approach to treatment.
Following treatment at a residential mental health program, the individual will be prescribed ongoing outpatient psychotherapy as well as directed to support groups that can provide peer support.
Depression is a highly treatable mental health disorder. If you are struggling with the effects of depression to the point that it is negatively affecting work performance, see a doctor and then discuss the condition with your employer to best protect job security.
The Treatment Specialist an Expert Source of Mental Health Information
The Treatment Specialist provides free online guidance and information for individuals struggling with depression. When seeking information about major depressive disorder and related treatment options, The Treatment Specialist can provide the important information to help you move forward in obtaining the professional treatment. If you wonder, “Am I losing my job due to depression” or have questions about depression treatment centers near me and job security, please reach out to The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.