Depression and other mental or emotional conditions can qualify as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But not all employers understand this. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA, depression is the impairment claimed in 6-7% of disability discrimination charges filed each year.
But not all impairments, and not all levels of depression, qualify as disabilities under the ADA. The ADA doesn't have a list of conditions that always (or never) count as disabilities. Instead, the ADA directs employers and the courts to consider how the condition affects the individual employee.
If depression substantially limits your ability to perform major life activities, then it's a disability under the ADA. And, if you have a disability, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations that will allow you to do your job. Here's what you need to know to determine whether your depression is a disability under the ADA.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness or a lack of interest in life. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), major depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with your thoughts and behavior.
Depression is more than a temporary case of the blues or the blahs. It can significantly disrupt your daily life and cause serious symptoms such as:
The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Depression counts as a mental impairment, but it must "substantially limit" a "major life activity" to qualify as a disability that your employer must accommodate. Here's how the law defines these terms.
Tasks and functions that are basic to our everyday lives qualify as major life activities. For example, physical disabilities, such as paralysis, blindness, or back injuries, might impair major life activities like:
Major life activities that are often impaired by mental conditions, including depression, include the following:
Under the ADA, you're substantially limited if your ability to perform a major life activity is limited in comparison to the general population. So, you don't have to be completely incapable of sleeping, concentrating, or thinking, for example, to be substantially limited in performing these activities.
In making this determination, your employer should consider the manner, duration, and condition in which you can perform these activities. For example, if you can sleep for only a few hours a night, your ability to sleep is substantially limited. If it's very difficult for you to concentrate, and you can't focus for more than short periods of time, your ability to think is substantially limited.
When considering your limitations, the ADA doesn't consider the effects of treatment—medication or other devices or assistance you might use to lessen your symptoms. The key is how your condition affects you when it's active and untreated.
For example, let's say you've suffered several episodes of major depression, but your condition is currently controlled with medication. Under the ADA, you still have a disability even though you might not show any current signs of impairment.
For more information, see the EEOC's guidance on depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.
If you suffer from depression and you believe you need a reasonable accommodation, speak to your employer. Legally, you're entitled to a reasonable accommodation—a change to the job or the workplace—that will allow you to do your job with your disability, unless providing it would cause your employer undue hardship.
Reasonable accommodations for depression could include changes such as:
Learn more about getting workplace accommodations for depression and anxiety.
Updated March 9, 2023
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