For those suffering from an anxiety disorder or depression, it can be tough to get through the workday. Depression can cause extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and trouble with deadlines and attendance. Anxiety disorders may lead to intrusive thoughts, feelings of panic and fear, and difficulty handling changes and job-related stress. The resulting problems at work and with supervisors can exacerbate these already very challenging conditions.
The good news is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may offer some help. If you work for a private employer with at least 15 employees, your employer may not discriminate against employees with disabilities. Mental and psychiatric conditions often qualify as disabilities. And, if you have a disability, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations that will allow you to do your job.
You are protected by the ADA if you have a disability: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities. Major depression and anxiety disorders (including agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder) almost certainly qualify as disabilities because of their effect on daily life. If your depression or anxiety makes it hard for you to sleep, work, concentrate, think, regulate your emotions, or care for yourself, for example, then it is a disability under the ADA. (For more information, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.)
Employees with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations: changes to the workplace, job, or employment policies that will allow them to do their work. Your employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would create undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense, taking into account your employer’s size and resources).
If you need a reasonable accommodation, you must ask for one. The ADA doesn’t require your employer to guess that you have a disability or need an accommodation. If your depression or anxiety is making it difficult for you to work, and you believe changes such as a modified schedule, a less noisy office space, or more help tracking your assignments and workload would help, you should request an accommodation.
You don’t have to make your request in writing, but it’s a good idea. That way, you can make sure you have clearly communicated your needs to your employer, and you’ll have a record of your request. Once you’ve made your request, your employer may ask for more information or documentation of your condition and the way it affects you.
Your employer doesn’t have to provide the precise accommodation you request, but it must engage in a “flexible, interactive process” with you to try to come up with an accommodation that will be effective. For example, if your new supervisor has a harsh and critical style that is exacerbating your anxiety disorder, you may ask to report to your former supervisor, whose style was more positive. Your employer might, instead, ask your new supervisor to take a more constructive approach with you, and offer to provide a mediator to help the two of you get along better.
The accommodations you need will depend on your job and how your condition affects you. Here are some problems that might arise at work for employees who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, along with some accommodations that might be effective:
You can find many more accommodation ideas at the website of the Job Accommodation Network.