Mental Health Accommodations At Work

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Girl sitting at desk with computer and dog in her lap (Caption:  Mental Health Accommodations At Work)

Over 46 million adults in the United States are currently living with a mental health condition. As these adults navigate their professional lives, there are times when many will need to request mental health accommodations at work. Reasonable accommodations are made by an employer when a disability (like a mental health condition) infringes on an employee’s ability to perform their job to their fullest potential. 

By speaking with your human resources department and knowing your rights, you may be able to receive accommodations such as a flexible work schedule, a quiet room or recovery room, or being able to bring a support animal at work with you. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all employers are obligated to provide these accommodations, and others, Once you know what options are available, it’s time to start a conversation with your employer. 

Scheduling Accommodations

If you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, you may struggle to adhere to a nine-to-five workday. This difficulty can increase your stress and exacerbate the symptoms of your disorder. However, there are several different scheduling accommodations that could be made. 

Flexible Schedules

A flexible work schedule allows you to complete your duties in a time frame that goes beyond the standard business hours.  The goal of a flexible schedule is to make space for you to take care of yourself.

For example, a person who has been diagnosed with depression may struggle with excessive fatigue, insomnia, or an extremely low mood which may make it difficult to appear at work early every day.  If this person has received an accommodation that allows them to work from home, they can wake up, have the space to take care of themselves, and then perform their duties to the best of their ability from the comfort of their home. 

Modified Break Schedule

Some people may not need flexible time to clock in and out, but others may need more breaks periodically through the day to accommodate any disabilities they may have. If this is the case, a modified break schedule might be best. 

Places with stricter guidelines around breaks need to provide this accommodation for employees with mental illness to properly decompress — especially if the workplace also has excessive triggers or stressors. If you can take breaks according to your individual needs, then you can give yourself the space to deal with triggers or flare-ups of symptoms as they present themselves. 

Time-Off

Real vacations can have an immense impact on your health. In the United States, many people do not use all of their vacation days, and if they do, they have trouble completely disconnecting from work as they should. 

Stress has a myriad of negative effects on the body and mind, and these effects can be especially damaging to people with a variety of mental health conditions. If you believe that increased time-off would help you be more productive at work, approach your employer with an unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO) policy proposal. 

An unlimited PTO policy can lead to increased employee productivity and better time management. In addition, unlimited time-off requires less work for administrators and HR, and it can improve employee turnover rates. 

Special Use Spaces

While some employees need accommodations regarding time, others need accommodations regarding space. Taking a break at your desk may not be enough to truly escape your triggers or lower the effects of sensory overload. If this is true for you, you may need the accommodation of a recovery room or an activity room. 

Quiet Rooms/Recovery Rooms

Sensory overload is an issue for people with a wide range of mental health diagnoses — from anxiety disorders to those on the autism spectrum.  A quiet room often has a lock or a sign on the door that indicates when privacy is needed. You can find features such as furniture to sit or lie down on, yoga mats for meditation, and curtains on the windows to shut out the light. The goal of a recovery room is to create a space where an employee can escape for a little while, recover from a stressful situation, and then return to work rejuvenated and happy. 

Activity And Exercise Rooms

An activity and exercise room may sound expensive, but there does not have to be an overwhelming set-up cost. Tools such as yoga mats, free weights, and exercise balls are all reasonably priced and can provide employees with what they need to have a more active break from work. 

In addition to the physical benefits, providing an exercise space for employees may also bring along mental health benefits, including reduced anxiety and depression. It can also boost your confidence and self-esteem. There is even an improvement in cognitive function after exercising, meaning you can think and problem solve better when you have the chance to move around a bit. 

Support Animals

While many people may associate support animals with a physical disability, support animals can be important in the daily lives of those with any kind of condition — including those associated with mental health. People who have a service dog for a preexisting reason are entitled to bring their dog to work with them. Service dogs provide a feeling of security, warnings about impending anxiety attacks, and assistance during flashbacks and other symptoms of disorders such as PTSD. 

Service Dog Accommodations

Service dog sniffing woman in pool (Caption: Service vs Therapy vs Emotional Support Dogs)(

If you have a service dog or you are considering getting one, you must understand their purpose. There are three types of dogs that people associate with mental health treatments: service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs

Service dogs are trained to perform a specific task for a person with a mental health diagnosis. In many ways, a service dog can be considered a piece of medical equipment (like a wheelchair) and should be allowed in every physical space. 

Therapy dogs are also highly trained, but their owners bring them into spaces where they provide therapeutic benefits for other people in that space. On the other hand, emotional support animals are not trained at all. Their benefits can be drawn exclusively from their existence. While there are some accommodations for transportation and housing with an emotional support animal, they do not have unrestricted access like service dogs. 

Benefits Of A Pet-Friendly Office

While service dogs should already be allowed at your workplace, your employer might be interested in implementing the policies needed to make your place of work a pet-friendly office. 

This would include things such as pet insurance, clear guidelines around aggressive dogs, a list of vaccination requirements, and an outdoor space where you can take animals throughout the day. Some of these adjustments will take time, from finding the right pet insurance policy to training dogs for off-leash recall. 

Having a pet-friendly office can help reduce stress and increase productivity. In addition, providing a better space for furry animals to assist in employee needs may act as a source of positivity and happiness for employees. 

Support Staff And Specialists

Some people benefit from on-site support staff at their place of work. This support staff, also known as job coaches, provides a wide array of tasks that can assist you throughout the day.  They can help employees with disabilities by identifying accommodations, providing information about the ADA, and assisting in communication. They can help employers to navigate their responsibilities in regards to reasonable accommodations. 

Arrange Visits And Specialist Events

Full-time support staff may not be necessary. Sometimes, scheduled visits and specialist events are sufficient. These visits can occur monthly and be tailored to the employee’s individual needs. 

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