How to Deal with Mental Illness in the Workplace

In the workplace, one third of people do not feel secure speaking about mental illness, but it is possible for employees to receive assistance -- which is why employers should empower their colleagues with the knowledge of knowing how to ask.

In this article, you will learn

  • Your rights as an employee regarding mental health
  • What kinds of accommodations are available
  • How to manage stress in the workplace
  • The importance of a support network

Discrimination Protections & Accommodations

It’s a common fear that disclosing mental health issues will result in workplace discrimination or even termination. As an employee, the Americans with Disabilities Act will protect you from these fears.

In fact, by disclosing mental illness, workers open the door to an accommodations request. Remember, asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Employers should strive to support their workers’ mental health, as 80% of employees are more efficient when their needs are met.

Asking for Accommodations

If you’re feeling nervous about disclosing your mental health status to your boss, here are some tips to help you start.

  1. Find your workplace’s policy on accommodation requests. Human resources will readily give you the information.
  2. Try to be specific in the type of accommodation you wish to receive.
  3. Note how the accommodation will improve your work efficacy (but don’t forget that the most important benefit is you fostering your mental health).
  4. If you receive treatment from a healthcare provider, include that in your statement. Ask your provider for accommodation suggestions.
  5. Make sure to keep record of all discussions (on and offline) you have with your employer that regard your mental health.

Examples of Accommodations

Look to these examples if you’re having trouble articulating which accommodations you need.

  • A quieter spot to work or noise cancelling headphones
  • A flexible work schedule for therapy appointments
  • Written instructions to accompany any verbal instructions

There are also things you can do outside of your job to lower the impact of work-related stress.

Receiving proper accommodations for your mental health may make you happier in and out of the workplace.


Establish a Healthy Work/Life Balance

Though your job is only one facet of your life, all the aspects of your life have the potential to impact one another. This is why it is important to set a healthy work and life balance.

Ever heard the old adage of not bringing your work back to your home? One of the first things you should do is learn how to displace work stress in emotionally productive ways. For example, once you arrive back home, journal about your day. Your private journal is your free space to vent and reflect about the day. You’ll feel relieved and ready to take on any home responsibilities.

Another way to manage stress accumulated from the work day is a fun or fast paced workout. If you’re able to hold the commitment, a workout routine will regulate your sleep and mood, too. Keeping up with a routine will be easier if it’s centered around an activity you enjoy. Sign up for a yoga or kickboxing class!

Of course, there will be conflicts at work that require immediate stress relief. For times you feel overwhelmed on the clock, try mindfulness exercises. Use breathing rhythms to quell anxiety by controlling the count of your breaths. Another mindfulness exercise is called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. This uses the five senses to ground your physical presence

How to Use the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

  • Notice 5 things you see.
  • Notice 4 things you can touch.
  • Notice 3 things you can hear.
  • Notice 2 things you can smell.
  • Notice 1 thing you can taste.
  • Repeat as necessary.

Another healthy habit on-site habit is refraining from comparing yourself to others. Do not base your performance on other’s if you’re already accomplishing what’s required. Remember, everyone is different.

Meditation will teach you how to manage your negative emotions and resolve stresses.


Although thoughts about our jobs don’t disappear just because we’ve left for the day, we need to find other important happenings in our lives. Without true time off work, the risk of burn-out is all too close. Find a low stress hobby that gives you a sense of pride. This will give you something to look forward to every week.

Want to Try Something New?

Look to this list for easy ideas to add happiness to your life.

  • Visit all the art galleries in your city.
  • Learn how to paint or collage.
  • Volunteer!

Build a Strong Support Network

You don’t have to figure it out alone. A strong support network provides is essential in nurturing your mental health. Sometimes, you seek advice on a complex situation. Other times, your support support system is there to check in on you before you even notice something is wrong.

These relationships can be formed between family, close friends, or social support groups. Consider adding a therapist to your list of trusted contacts. A good therapist will teach you coping mechanisms for stress to replace maladaptive behaviors. Through therapy, you can also devise a way to identify situations that will trigger a stress response, so that you can resolve them quickly.

What Makes a Good Therapist?

You will want to look for the following qualities in a therapist:

  • A good therapist is scientific in their method -- one who sticks to facts, notices patterns, and is realistic about what can be accomplished.
  • A good therapist is empathetic and non-judgemental to their patient’s stories.
  • A good therapist will feel trust-worthy and familiar enough for you to tell your whole story.
  • A good therapist gives a client the tools to solve her problems. The therapist cannot solve a client’s problem for her.
Work isn’t your whole life. There’s peace in knowing you go home to loving family and friends.

You don’t have to neglect mental health for the sake of your employer. Hopefully, as the years pass on, mental illness will continue to become destigmatized in the workplace and more employees will feel safe in reaching out to their bosses.

For questions, partnerships, or to get covered on the GRW blog, click here.

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