I’ve made a couple references to the fact that I was in the process of seeking a reasonable accommodation under the American’s with Disability Act (ADA) for my depression and anxiety. I’ve refrained from talking too much about it because it was an ongoing process. Fortunately, my employer and I recently reached an agreement for an accommodation, ending the process and allowing me to reflect on it here.
First, let me give a brief overview of the legal landscape for anyone not familiar with the ADA. If you demonstrate that you have a diagnosed medical condition and corresponding need for an accommodation, your employer must grant you the accommodation, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship for them. The employer may suggest alternative accommodations, and the ultimate accommodation may not be the one you originally requested, so long as it is effective.
And that is the case for me. The accommodation I ultimately received was not what I originally requested. However, it will hopefully be a change that will allow me to better manage my anxiety and depression.
And more than that, my work is now aware of the issues and demonstrated its willingness to work with me to accommodate them. This is perhaps the biggest benefit of bringing my mental illness into the workplace and letting them know about it. Now, they have documentation of my limitations and a plan to help me address them. Rather than feeling like a failure every time my mental illness gets to be too much, I now have a relief valve thanks to the new schedule set up as a result of my accommodation.
Bringing mental illnesses, or any illness or disability for that matter, into the workplace is never an easy conversation. There is legitimate fear that your ability to advance within the organization will be limited, or else that you will face unfair judgment from co-workers. And while there is certainly a right and a wrong way to go about it, having that conversation is necessary in my opinion for proper self-care. Prioritizing work or a professional reputation over a disability or illness will only impede recovery while creating an even greater burden that must be handled in silence. I am hopeful because of my new accommodation, and hopeful that if you are struggling with a disability in silence at the workplace that you choose to open up about it as well.