How to Accommodate Employees Struggling with Depression and Anxiety
The statistics around the prevalence of mental illness in the United States are staggering. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, for one in 20, that experience is considered serious. Two of the most common disorders represented in these numbers are anxiety and depression.
At some point in their lives, 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder. Another 7.8% experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year alone.
With statistics like those, it’s very likely that a good number of employees at any organization are struggling with anxiety, depression, or a mix of both. The larger your workforce, the more important it is to understand the challenges these employees are facing—and be ready to support them to be as productive as they can be.
Mental health challenges like anxiety and depression fall under the broader category of “invisible disabilities.” Invisible, or hidden, disabilities are conditions that you can’t readily see with the naked eye but can still significantly impact someone’s life. This article continues our series about how to accommodate invisible disabilities, including long COVID, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder. We’ll take a look at how anxiety and depression can impact workers, and potential accommodations that can help them perform their best.
What is anxiety disorder and how can it affect employees?
Millions of adults in America struggle with anxiety disorders. They include a range of disorders that include phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and panic disorder. During life’s biggest moments, nearly everyone experiences normal, healthy amounts of anxiety: death of a loved one, moving, starting a new job, or even welcoming a new baby.
For people struggling with anxiety disorders, the magnitude of the emotional stress is much larger, and feelings of intense fear can impact their day-to-day life. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with anxiety often find the following work situations difficult:
- giving talks and presentations
- effectively handling problems
- managing and meeting deadlines
- maintaining interpersonal relationships with colleagues
- managing employees who report to them
- actively participating in meetings
What is depression and how does it impact workers?
Depression is much more than just feeling a little down or sad. People with clinical depression struggle with persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in everyday activities. For some people, depression may happen only once in their lives, but many people struggle every day with symptoms that can include:
- Deep feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or guilt
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in activities
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Fatigue, trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
In the workplace, a depressive episode can have an outsized impact on an employee’s work performance. These episodes can cause the following issues:
- Lack of engagement
- Missing days of work
- Struggling to focus or make decisions
- Difficulties with time management
- Challenges completing physical tasks
- Low communication and social interaction
What accommodations can help employees with depression and anxiety?
Many, many workers today struggle with anxiety and depression, and these disorders can cause significant issues in the workplace. The good news is that the symptoms of depression and anxiety can often be lessened and resolved with treatment. Anxiety and depression are also covered under the ADA, so employees can request reasonable accommodations to help them perform their best.
Many of the most effective accommodations cost very little, or even nothing at all. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), accommodations for depression and anxiety have a lot of overlap, and can include:
- Flexible schedule to attend treatment
- Modified break schedule
- Private space and designated areas to rest
- Ability to spend with a support person or animal
- Help identify and reduce exposure to triggers
- Uninterrupted “off” work time
There are numerous potential accommodations for anxiety and depression, especially because symptoms can vary from person to person. You can view an extensive list of possible accommodations at JAN:
What is the best way to manage the ADA interactive process for employees with anxiety and depression?
More often than not, employees with these conditions, especially mental health issues, can feel like they need to hide their condition. This is why it’s so important to make sure your accommodations request process is discreet and non-judgmental. Be sure to communicate all the mental health resources your organization offers widely and often, so people can take advantage of them as needed. You also want to regularly let employees know exactly how to request an accommodation if they need one.
Employees who disclose a mental illness diagnosis to their employers are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As an employer, you are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations to help them perform essential functions of their job. To make sure you are not only fostering an inclusive, positive work culture, but also staying compliant, it’s a good idea to follow ADA best practices when accommodating employees with mental illness.
Offer discrete ways for employees to disclose diagnoses and request accommodations
One of the best ways to do this is by using leave management software that provides a self-service online portal. Employees can use any device at any time to request an accommodation, and the requests go directly to the HR team. They can log back in at any time to add medical documentation or other required information, and track the status of their request.
Make sure your team has the tools and time to find the right accommodations
People struggling with anxiety, depression, or both, can have a wide range of symptoms and challenges. It’s important that your HR team provide a consistent, thorough, supportive interactive process to find just the right accommodation for each employee. Accommodation management software like AbsenceSoft can help. It prompts and documents every step of the interactive process, and centrally stores notes, medical documentation, and past decisions for easy reference. Automation built into the platform allows HR teams to spend 66% less time on administrative work, so they have more time to talk to employees and explore options.
Be sure to follow up on every accommodation
After you have implemented an accommodation, it’s very important to check back in periodically to see how it is going. If the accommodation isn’t working well, you can restart the interactive process to try something else. Or, if their symptoms are being alleviated by treatment, you can adjust or end the accommodation. With accommodation management software, you can set automated reminders to follow up, and you can record feedback in a single, centralized location. You can also quickly restart the process if needed, or record if an accommodation was successful.
With one in five people in the United States struggling with mental illness, it’s more important than ever for employers to understand what this means for their workforce. A range of mental health conditions are covered by the ADA, including depression and anxiety. Making sure your ADA interactive process is consistent, thorough, and supportive is key to following regulations while also promoting a great work culture.
Most accommodations for mental illness don’t cost very much, and many cost nothing at all. Mental health coverage is usually part of standard health benefits packages, so it shouldn’t place a major burden on your organization to provide resources that help your employees feel and perform their best.
By accommodating mental health challenges, your organization could realize some very valuable benefits, including:
- Improved productivity and engagement
- Reduced absenteeism
- Increased job satisfaction and commitment to your organization
- Lawsuit avoidance and improved compliance
For an in depth look at how to use technology to transform the way you handle workplace accommodation, check out our free guide: Best Practices for Modern ADA and Accommodation Management. To see how AbsenceSoft can help you more effectively manage accommodations, schedule a demo today.