May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 5, 2017 under Accommodations, Employers, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

Mental health is how we feel, think and behave as we manage our lives. Our mental health impacts our relationships and the decisions we make. Living in an increasingly fast-paced and complicated world may cause us to experience difficulty when managing our lives. Like our physical health, paying attention to our mental health is equally essential throughout our lives.

Life can be stressful for all of us at one time or another. Stress can be caused by the annoyances of daily life such as traffic, deadlines at work, or illnesses. It can also be caused by more serious issues like the termination of a job, the loss of a loved one, or financial difficulties. How do we determine if the stress or discomfort we are feeling is a normal reaction to a passing difficulty in our lives or the symptom of a more serious problem, possibly a mental health impairment that may require treatment?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), mental health impairments are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Mental health impairments can affect persons of any age, religion, or race, or any level of income or education. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. Mental health impairments are common – they affect approximately 43.8 million Americans in a given year. According to NAMI, one in five adults in the U.S. will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

Based on an article on the Mayo Clinic Website entitled Mental Health: What’s Normal, What’s Not, factors you should consider when evaluating your mental health may include the following information about your symptoms:  how long you have had them; how serious they are; how upsetting they are to you; and how they affect your life. If you have questions about your feelings, thoughts or actions and whether the problems you may be experiencing are “normal” or merit some type of evaluation, remember to ask for help. Contact a health care provider such as a family physician. They often can refer you to a more specialized professional if it’s warranted. According to NAMI, early identification and treatment is of vital importance. It’s important to note that the best treatments today for even serious mental illnesses are highly effective.

The Cleveland Clinic offers tips for improving both your physical and mental health and helping to reduce stress. Here are just a few:

  • Learn to relax.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Get plenty of sleep and rest.
  • Don’t rely on drugs or alcohol.

Job accommodations can be vital for the successful employment of individuals with mental health impairments. Difficulties with concentration, memory, organization, task completion, and coworker interaction are just some of the issues an individual with a mental health impairment may experience in the workplace. JAN consultants provide technical assistance to both employees and employers who are seeking information about effective workplace accommodations that affect job performance. See JAN’s mental health publications for accommodation ideas.

The following “real life” examples show how three employees with mental health impairments were successfully accommodated.

An administrative assistant in a social service agency has bipolar disorder. Her duties include typing, word processing, filing, and answering the telephone. She experiences difficulties with concentration and short-term memory. Her accommodations include assistance in organizing her work and a dual headset for her telephone that allows her to listen to music when not talking on the telephone. The use of the headset minimizes distractions, increases concentration, and relaxes the employee. Also, meetings are held with the supervisor once a week to discuss workplace issues. These meetings are recorded so the employee can remember issues they discuss. She can replay the information as often as she needs.

An architect with an anxiety disorder works in a large, busy, and open office. She requests a private workspace to help her handle stress and emotions brought on by the open, crowded, and often noisy environment. The employer agrees, and also provides telework as an option as well as flexible scheduling for when the employee is particularly stressed while under firm deadlines.

An employee with agoraphobia works from home full-time as a benefit of employment.  When new management comes on board, the whole telework program is scrapped and everyone is required to return to the office. The employee, who never had to disclose and request an accommodation, now asks for a policy modification that allows him to continue to work from home. The new management considers his request and finds no hardship in allowing him to continue to telework.

If you or someone you know needs more individualized assistance with job accommodations, contact JAN directly. Our services are free and confidential.

Additional Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Mental Health Month
NAMI – StigmaFree
Mayo Clinic – Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
NIMH – Mental Health Information

 

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