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Mental Illness in the Workplace

For people experiencing a mental illness, a good work/life balance is critical. The relationship between stress and mental illness is complex, but certainly stress can exacerbate mental illness for some people. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, employees who considered most of their days to be quite a bit or extremely stressful were over 3 times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode, compared with those who reported low levels of general stress.

That of course does not mean that avoiding stress will prevent mental illness, but certainly recovery from mental illness is more difficult if levels of stress are high.

Work is often a very positive experience for people recovering from mental illness. The development of social networks, a sense of accomplishment and purpose, in addition to a salary, make employment a key part of many people’s recovery.

Accommodating Mental Illness at Work

If you have a mental illness, you have the right to ask for certain accommodations that will allow you to continue to work. You are under no obligation to disclose your mental illness to your employer, but you likely be asked to show documentation from a doctor that outlines the accommodations you require.

Here are some suggestions to improve your work situation if you are experiencing mental illness:

  • If you are returning to work after a leave related to mental illness, consider negotiating a graduated return-to-work with your employer. This may mean returning only three days a week, or for shorter workdays.
  • Be clear with your employer about what workplace situations cause stress, and how they can be addressed. For example, if you find long meetings difficult, tell your employer that you may have to leave the room periodically, and you will sit close to the door so you don’t disturb others. Ask that detailed notes of the proceedings be taken so you can review what you missed.
  • Certain medications may make it difficult for you to be at work first thing in the morning. Ask your employer about flexible work times that allow you to be at your most productive.
  • You may wish to ask that instructions and directions from your supervisor be provided in writing, if you find it difficult to retain spoken information.

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