How does mental illness affect the way I function at work?
Mental illnesses may interfere with your ability to function at work --
or they may have no effect at all. If your mental illness is affecting your
ability to do things such as concentrating or communicating effectively, you're
probably aware of it. Then again, you may not have made the connection between
your disability and your problems functioning. Under the ADA, your employer only
needs to provide accommodations for limitations that can be directly connected
to your disability. You should document the types of functional limitations
caused by your disability to show your need for accommodations.Here's a list of
some of the limitations you may be experiencing. If you have a psychiatric
disability, you may have trouble doing some of these things.* Please remember
that since that are many different types of mental illnesses, this isn't a
complete list -- and that not everyone experiences all, or even any, of these
limitations. Here's how you might cope:
Inability to screen out environmental stimuli,
such as sounds, sights, or smells, which distract you. For example, you may
have a hard time working next to a noisy printer or in a high-traffic area.
Possible solutions: Move the printer away from the work area;
get permission to wear headphones playing soft music while you work; ask for
high partitions to be installed around your desk.
Inability to concentrate. You may feel
restless, have a short attention span, be easily distracted, or have a hard
time remembering verbal directions. For example, it may be difficult for you
to focus on one task for an extended period of time.
Possible solutions: Break large projects into smaller tasks;
ask for tasks to be assigned in writing; take short, frequent breaks to
stretch or walk around whenever you feel your attention slipping.
Lack of stamina. You may not have enough
energy to work a full day, or you may find your medication makes you drowsy.
Possible solutions: Ask for a part-time schedule; ask for
flex time or job sharing to be sure you're working only during your high
energy hours; take a mid-day rest break.
Difficulty handling time pressures and multiple tasks.
You may have trouble managing assignments, setting priorities, or meeting
deadlines. For example, you may not know how to decide which tasks to do first
in order to complete a project by its due date.
Possible solutions: Break larger projects down into
manageable tasks; meet regularly with your boss or a job coach for help
prioritizing or estimating how long it will take to meet a deadline.
Difficulty interacting with others. For
example, you may be too shy to talk with co-workers at breaks, or you may have
trouble figuring out "how things go around here."
Possible solutions: Ask your employer to pair you with a
co-worker who can introduce you around and show you the ropes.
Difficulty handling negative feedback. You
may have a hard time understanding and interpreting criticism. For example,
you may get defensive when someone tells you your work isn't up to standards.
It's hard for you to figure out what to do to improve, or you may believe
trying to change is worthless.
Possible solutions: Ask that a job coach be present when you
meet with your employer for feedback; offer your own perspective on your
strengths and weaknesses; ask for specific ways to improve; ask to receive
feedback in writing with an opportunity to discuss it later.
Difficulty responding to change. Unexpected
changes at work, such as new rules, job duties, or supervisors and co-workers,
may be unusually stressful for you. For example, it may take you a long time
to learn new tasks, or you may feel especially anxious around new co-workers.
Possible solutions: Ask your employer for advance warning of
any changes; make a special effort to introduce yourself to new co-workers;
ask your employer to notify new supervisors of your needs.
*Adapted from Mancuso, L.L. (1990) Reasonable accommodations for
workers with psychiatric disabilities. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal,
© 1997, 1998
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University