Job Hunting With A Mental Illness

in Blog

There are definite positive mental health benefits of getting a job and working. It can be a way to feel like you are integrated into society and using your time productively. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, it is essential to know your rights when applying for a job. 

Applying For Jobs

The Equality Act helps to protect people against many forms of discrimination when applying for work. This includes discrimination based on gender, sexual preference, race, or disability. A mental health condition is officially considered a disability if it has a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s day-to-day activity. 

It is illegal for a potential employer to ask about your mental health at any time before a job offer is made. There are a few exceptions to this rule. A potential employer can ask about physical or mental disability to;

  • Find out whether applicants will be able to carry out assessments for the job.
  • Find out whether applicants may need adjustments for the application process.
  • Find out whether applicants will be able to complete tasks that are central to the job.
  • Find out whether they are receiving job applications from a diverse range of people.

A statement that would be considered acceptable during a job interview would be something like, “Please contact us privately if you have a disability and you need any extra support or adjustments to be made during your application process”. 

What would definitely not be acceptable would be someone asking, “Do you have a history of poor mental health?”.  

Mental Illness In The Workplace

Since COVID-19, half of the US workforce has suffered from mental health issues. About 18% of US workers report suffering from a mental health condition in any given month. This means that mental illness in the workplace is extremely common and should not be stigmatized.

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) stipulates that all employees with mental illness have a right to privacy. It is entirely up to the individual whether they wish to disclose their condition. 

If you have a psychiatric disability, you also have the right to ask for job accommodations that will enable you to perform your work duties effectively, unless this would cause undue hardship to your employer.

Practical Points For Job Seekers

When looking for work, consider using some of the best job boards. Remember that staying silent is not a lie. You are fully entitled to make a disclosure choice that feels right for the situation and feels right for you. Think through your disclosure decision carefully. You are fully entitled to make different disclosure decisions for different job applications. 

Job applicants with a mental illness may choose not to tell their potential employers because they fear discrimination. Others may choose full disclosure because they don’t want any surprises and want to gauge whether they will be accepted in the workplace. You may also just not want to live “in the closet” about your condition. Either way, it is entirely up to you.

Make sure you do some homework on the company before applying. Do they seem disability-friendly? Do they include disability in their diversity statements? Do they have an Employee Assistance Program? Are there other employees who have come forward with disabilities?

Even if you think you will need a reasonable level of accommodation when you get the job, you still don’t have to disclose your mental illness during the application process. You are still fully entitled to ask for job accommodations if and when you are hired. When requesting the accommodation, you would need to disclose something about your condition. 

If you are working with a job counselor, make sure they know whether or not you want potential employees to know about your mental illness. 

What Support Is Available?

There are many schemes, organizations, and programs that may be able to help you to find work. This can include local charities, national charities, help from social services, careers advisors, and support from family and friends. To receive some services, you may need an official diagnosis.

These services may be able to help you with developing skills, abilities, and relevant experience, identifying job opportunities, writing a resume, interview techniques, and supporting you through the interview process.

IPS (Individual Placement and Support) programs can help people with mental illness to choose, obtain and keep jobs. They provide ongoing, long-term support that is tailored to the individual. Competitive employment rates for people engaging in these programs had close to a 60% success rate, compared to 24% for people not in these programs.  

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) provides support services for people with mental illness in the wider community. This can include treatment, helping with community integration, and finding work. They will always have an employment specialist on their team. Every part of their program forms part of a holistic treatment and support. 

Clubhouses are community-based centers that are open to people living with a mental illness. They offer supported employment programs. Fountain House is the world's leading clubhouse program for people with mental health issues. Their members enjoy a 42% employment rate. Some clubhouses will offer support with education. This can help your prospects of finding a job.  

People With Mental Illness Can Be Very Successful

Mental illness doesn’t have to be an obstacle when looking for work. In some professions, it can be equated with success. Many successful entrepreneurs have bipolar disorder. Bipolar can be equated with being very innovative and creative.

If you work in healthcare, it could be considered an advantage if you have personal experience. If you have experienced mental illness and know what it takes to reach recovery, you will have a wealth of experience and knowledge. 

A CPS is a type of mental health care professional living in recovery and helps others to reach recovery. They can offer hope and inspiration. CPS work is MedicAid reimbursable in 39 states. 

In Summary 

If you have a mental illness and you are looking for work, make sure you know your rights. Learn some practical points that will help you through the job application process and find out how you can be supported. You can be a great success and find work that will support your life and help you integrate into the community. 


written by Brenna Johnson (Reviewed by Matthew Poole)