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Employing Individuals with Mental Health Impairments

Written by Legal Aid WV


This article is a Legal Aid of West Virginia perspective through the eyes of disability and behavioral health advocates and aims to remove the stigma from disabled persons who wish to work.

Accommodating Employees with Mental Health Impairments

Simple workplace accommodations and understanding can help break the stigma of those who suffer from mental health disorders, benefiting both the employee and the employer. Individuals with anxiety, depression, learning difficulties, ADHD, and other mental health diagnoses can be successful employees, if provided appropriate workplace accommodations.

Accommodations do not have to be complex and can include:

  • Limited interactions with the public
  • Additional leave for therapy and medical appointments
  • Flexible scheduling, including reduced hours (as necessary)
  • Additional breaks
  • Private or remote workspace options
  • Additional training and/or time for orientation or learning new job duties
  • Restructuring or modification of large assignments into smaller, achievable tasks
  • Allowance of food and beverages at workstation
  • Established quiet workstation or allowance of music to block out distractions in work environment
  • Implementation of peer support and/or additional supervision

Establishing a Successful and Inclusive Working Environment for Employees with Mental Health Impairments

How can employers establish a welcoming workplace for successful employment of individuals who suffer from mental health disorders?

  • Obtain/provide training to business owners, management, and staff on mental health impairments and employing and/or working with individuals who suffer from those mental health impairments
  • Develop a written work agreement between the business and the individual that outlines workplace accommodations being offered to the employee, including schedule modifications, absenteeism policies, break schedules, etc.
  • Obtain copies of appointment schedules and develop excused absenteeism policy for medical and therapy appointments
  • Develop a support system for the employee with routine check-ins with supervisors and peer support staff
  • Establish protocol for issues that arise from exacerbated mental health symptoms.

Talking with Someone about Their Mental Health as It Relates to Employability

  • Choose a quiet, comfortable, and private space for a discussion with the employee
  • Ask questions in a non-judgmental manner
  • Do not presume or assume that you know the symptoms of any illness
  • Listen actively and supportively
  • Be honest
  • Develop a plan to address any issues the person may be experiencing with co-workers and/or with work duties
  • In the event the conversation becomes elevated, out of control, or unproductive, try redirecting through empathetic communication, i.e. “Let me see if I understand you.”

Often effective communication with an employee who suffers from a mental health impairment requires the employee to voice concerns in a specific way. For example, utilizing an “I feel” statement can be helpful:

  • I feel: Concerned; frustrated;
  • When you are: Frequently absent or tardy; speak loudly
  • Because: It’s unproductive, and
  • I want/need: Promptness; communication a plan for success

More About Adult Advocacy Services

Adult advocacy services through Legal Aid of West Virginia’s Behavioral Health Advocacy program provides support and services to adults with behavioral and mental health disorders who are living in the community, as well as to the residents of Mildred Mitchell-Bateman and William R. Sharpe Jr. hospitals.

The work of both our community and facility adult advocates includes:

  • Education and training for consumers, West Virginia’s psychiatric hospital staff, and other behavioral health professionals.
  • Investigation of patient abuse and neglect allegations and grievances by individuals in the State’s two mental and behavioral health inpatient facilities.
  • Referral and community linkage for individuals and their families facing challenges from mental or behavioral health or substance abuse.
  • Establishment of community support for those with mental and behavioral disorders, such as housing and benefits.

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