Sep
24
2014

Mental Health – The Invisible Disability

A lot of people with disabilities have identifiable physical signs and the potential employer may already be aware of their disability.   People with mental health issues on the other hand often find themselves in a grey area and feeling anxious about what they can be open about, when and if they should tell someone, and to whom.

Mental Health and Work

The Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIFA) reported in 2010 that 60% of respondents felt that employment and support for seeking employment was a key concern, second only to housing.  Many stated that employment was not only feasible but also key to their recovery.  A 2003 analysis showed that workforce participation rate for people with mental illness was 28.2% with the unemployment rate at 19.5%; this compares to people with physical disabilities at 48% participation and 7.7% unemployment.  Furthermore, MIFA also reports that people with mental illnesses are the largest group to access disability employment services and have the lowest rate of positive outcomes for securing and remaining in employment – the report cited employer reluctance, based on misunderstanding, to recruit people with mental illness.

Though there are no legal obligations to do so, there are pros and cons to informing or not informing an employer.

Reasons to inform your employer:

- Permits your employer to investigate any potential adjustments to your working pattern – an example might be necessary time off for therapy or counselling or company support programmes

- As with any other employee with a disability, employers are legally obliged to take reasonable steps to accommodate you

- Protects your rights as a person with a disability and where necessary, your right to bring a Disability Discrimination Complaint should disciplinary action ever require such an action

Reasons not to inform your employer:

- When the mental health condition does not and will not impact the job and cannot see that you will ever require reasonable adjustment

- Your right to privacy and trusting your own judgement about your condition

- Concern that being open about your condition may lead to discrimination, harassment or might affect promotion prospects

What an Employer Can Do

Employers are legally obliged to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.  Workplace adjustments for people with mental illness might reasonably include some of the following:

- Flexible working conditions

- The option of the employee with a mental illness to work with a mentor

- Modifying the job role to reduce stress and anxiety if the job role proves stressful

- Mental health awareness training for staff and management

- Any required physical modifications

- The offer of counselling or any other help that might assist the employee to be fully productive in the work place

Support Services and Assistance

The National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy (NMHDES) released in September 2009 aims to assist people with mental illness and disabilities obtain and retain employment. There is an annual fund of $1.2b that started in financial year 2009-10.

The Disability Employment Service is applicable to people with mental illness. It provides flexible assistance for those seeking work and for those who require help as part of employment they are already engaged in.

The Employee Assistance Fund (EAF) provides assistance and access to necessary resources for employees and employers including advice on relevant workplace modifications. The EAF is the major source of funding for workplace assistance for people with mental illness and helps with education for employers regarding mental health issues; for employees it offers special support and training packages.

JobAccess provides advice and workplace solutions for people with mental illness and their employers.  The service is free and has professional psychologists as part of its team.  The professional services include information on the full range of government funded services, practical working solutions and how to create and maintain a productive and healthy working environment for people with disabilities or mental illness.  It can also advise on the full range of legal obligations and offers information on financial assistance.

The Workplace Adjustment Tool is an online database that gives advice on potential workplace adjustments that you might make for an employee with a mental illness – and key indicators that the staff member might be experiencing an issue.  A wide range of issues are covered: depression and anxiety, eating disorders, dementia and personality disorders.

Mindfulemployer.org offers a wide range of advice for employers, especially in the realms of education and awareness.  They provide regular workshops with employers in mind.

Similarly, Beyondblue.org.au covers the spectrum of mental health awareness and offers advice on making a workplace a healthy place to be for people with mental illness.

Business woman sitting and reading a book

A lot of people with disabilities have identifiable physical signs and the potential employer may already be aware of their disability.   People with mental health issues on the other hand often find themselves in a grey area and feeling anxious about what they can be open about, when and if they should tell someone, and to whom.

Mental Health and Work

The Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIFA) reported in 2010 that 60% of respondents felt that employment and support for seeking employment was a key concern, second only to housing.  Many stated that employment was not only feasible but also key to their recovery.  A 2003 analysis showed that workforce participation rate for people with mental illness was 28.2% with the unemployment rate at 19.5%; this compares to people with physical disabilities at 48% participation and 7.7% unemployment.  Furthermore, MIFA also reports that people with mental illnesses are the largest group to access disability employment services and have the lowest rate of positive outcomes for securing and remaining in employment – the report cited employer reluctance, based on misunderstanding, to recruit people with mental illness.

Though there are no legal obligations to do so, there are pros and cons to informing or not informing an employer.

Reasons to inform your employer:

- Permits your employer to investigate any potential adjustments to your working pattern – an example might be necessary time off for therapy or counselling or company support programmes

- As with any other employee with a disability, employers are legally obliged to take reasonable steps to accommodate you

- Protects your rights as a person with a disability and where necessary, your right to bring a Disability Discrimination Complaint should disciplinary action ever require such an action

Reasons not to inform your employer:

- When the mental health condition does not and will not impact the job and cannot see that you will ever require reasonable adjustment

- Your right to privacy and trusting your own judgement about your condition

- Concern that being open about your condition may lead to discrimination, harassment or might affect promotion prospects

What an Employer Can Do

Employers are legally obliged to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.  Workplace adjustments for people with mental illness might reasonably include some of the following:

- Flexible working conditions

- The option of the employee with a mental illness to work with a mentor

- Modifying the job role to reduce stress and anxiety if the job role proves stressful

- Mental health awareness training for staff and management

- Any required physical modifications

- The offer of counselling or any other help that might assist the employee to be fully productive in the work place

Support Services and Assistance

The National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy (NMHDES) released in September 2009 aims to assist people with mental illness and disabilities obtain and retain employment. There is an annual fund of $1.2b that started in financial year 2009-10.

The Disability Employment Service is applicable to people with mental illness. It provides flexible assistance for those seeking work and for those who require help as part of employment they are already engaged in.

The Employee Assistance Fund (EAF) provides assistance and access to necessary resources for employees and employers including advice on relevant workplace modifications. The EAF is the major source of funding for workplace assistance for people with mental illness and helps with education for employers regarding mental health issues; for employees it offers special support and training packages.

JobAccess provides advice and workplace solutions for people with mental illness and their employers.  The service is free and has professional psychologists as part of its team.  The professional services include information on the full range of government funded services, practical working solutions and how to create and maintain a productive and healthy working environment for people with disabilities or mental illness.  It can also advise on the full range of legal obligations and offers information on financial assistance.

The Workplace Adjustment Tool is an online database that gives advice on potential workplace adjustments that you might make for an employee with a mental illness – and key indicators that the staff member might be experiencing an issue.  A wide range of issues are covered: depression and anxiety, eating disorders, dementia and personality disorders.

Mindfulemployer.org offers a wide range of advice for employers, especially in the realms of education and awareness.  They provide regular workshops with employers in mind.

Similarly, Beyondblue.org.au covers the spectrum of mental health awareness and offers advice on making a workplace a healthy place to be for people with mental illness.

Business woman sitting and reading a book

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