Returning to work with a severe health condition or recent injury can be hard enough. Battling the same misconceptions and stereotypes during a global pandemic can seem like even more of a challenge.
But there are ways to succeed, and the rewards can be tremendous. Financial independence, a sense of control, and greater integration into the community are all benefits people report to us after they’re able to return to work.
Some disabilities are easier to see than others. An employer may understand a reasonable accommodation for someone with back pain and an inability to sit for long hours. With other health conditions, such as mental health, the accommodations process may be more challenging.
Approaching the issue of mental illness can be tough both for the person with a disability and the potential employer or HR department. It can be done with careful steps. One of the things highly recommend to someone in this position is to have a discussion with a trained career consultant on the best way to communicate on these topics to potential or former employers.
If you are returning to work following successful treatment of mental illness, then it’s important to think through your steps in advance. For example, having a conversation about accommodation or your illness should be conducted after the application and interview processes are complete, and even more preferably once the position is officially offered and accepted.
Besides navigating the uncertainty of disclosure, it can be harder to find the right fit within the workplace. For example, those with anxiety disorders may struggle to be around people in the work environment all day. They might need to limit their face-to-face interactions to avoid a triggering or upsetting situation. In these cases, guide them toward a more independent job or coach them on how to request a remote work setup.
Mental illness wasn’t as easily recognized or discussed as it is today. People who are trying to go back to work following effective treatment, generally, are much more comfortable discussing their health than they were years ago. In addition, proponents have been leading the way toward a more inclusive and diverse society.
Sadly, despite some progress, mental health issues still retain a stigma. We need to keep going and recognize mental health as important alongside physical health. The truth is, many people are coming forward to share their experience with depression and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health needs are common among all types of individuals, no matter their gender, age or other characteristics. A diagnosis is simply that: a diagnosis. All conditions, whether physical or mental in nature, need to be acknowledged and respected.
One option is the Social Security Administration’s free Ticket to Work program. It’s designed to help individuals who reach medical recovery to begin their return to work while protecting their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
It’s vital to show how hiring people with disabilities creates a more inclusive work environment, filled with different perspectives and strong work records, usually with many years of experience. In fact, SSDI recipients have on average 22 years of prior work experience.
There are people who have all sorts of disabilities, physical and mental, including people who need treatments on a daily basis. Many individuals with mental illness thrive at work. Their health conditions don’t stop them from contributing to the team.
The best advice one can give is this: Never say never when it comes to returning to work. Medical conditions can improve with treatment, and the Ticket to Work program is available for anyone who wants to try working again without risking their benefits. If someone wants to return to work and become financially independent, they will use whatever tools are available to help them succeed. It all comes down to motivation, and many people with mental illnesses have the motivation and ability to surpass these obstacles to find employment success.