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Mental Illness in the workplace (part 2)

Mike Smith continues his discussion about mental illness in the workplace with clinical psychologist Nancy Mattax and MSU psychology professors Jeanne (Skip) Phelps and Carol Shoptaugh.

Radio Interview with Mike Smith: Mental Illness in the Workplace

Carol Shoptaugh, Professor, Dept of Psychology and Jeanne “Skip” Phelps, also Professor in the Dept of Psychology and Springfield clinical psychologist Dr. Nancy Mattax.

Mike: Introduce Drs Shoptaugh and Phelps. Tell our listeners a bit about what you do?

a. Skip: We are not clinicians, not attorneys; blurb on I/O Psychology and what we are

. Mike: Why is mental illness an issue in the workplace?

a. Carol: Prevalence of mental illness in general and prevalence in the workplace – underutilized work force – and furthermore, it’s the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not distinguish between people with physical and mental disabilities and offers (at least theoretically) the same protections from discrimination for both groups of people.

Mike: Tell me more about the Americans with Disabilities Act

a. Skip: general outline of ADA – three key concepts are “otherwise qualified” & “essential function” & “reasonable accommodation”. For employers and employees it’s hard to determine what’s essential and what’s reasonable, leads some to under-accommodate and others to over-accommodate. Important to note that it is not employer’s responsibility to accommodate if there has been no disclosure on part of employees; employers can’t ask about mental illness prior to a hire, all they can legally ask is “are you able to fulfill the essential functions of this job with or without an accommodation”. The problem with mental illness is that candidates who are being considered for a position often don’t know what kind of accommodation to request, or are unwilling to do so for fear of not being hired. (Can do medical tests post-hire that may reveal psychiatric conditions, but most employers don’t do this.)

Mike: What are some reasonable accommodations that employers can provide?

a. Carol: it depends -- list some possible accommodations, it depends on nature of disability! The process of flexible interaction is really what’s important; employers should educate themselves about mental illness and also educate their workforce about mental illness; training programs for other workers can be effective in helping employees learn about working with people with mental illnesses; stigma is a big problem – in fact, as Skip mentioned earlier, applicants with mental illnesses often do not disclose before hire, and may not even disclose after hire, and maybe for good reasons – mucho stigma!! And because employers are prohibited from asking directly, processes that are sensitive to the possibility of mental illness, even in the absence of explicit disclosure, are very important. Given the prevalence figures, most if not all workplaces do include many people with mental illnesses.

Mike: Why are employees so reluctant to disclose if doing so could provide them with the needed accommodations?

a. Carol: talk about some myths about mental illness

b. Skip: link between mental illness and violence, often because mental illness is untreated (inadequate insurance for mental illnesses is a problem, but that’s a topic for another day)

c. Carol: usually lots of warning signs, back to importance of process and paying attention to behaviors in the workplace that require intervention

Mike: Why should employers want to hire people with mental illnesses? Are there any benefits to employers?

a. Carol: tax credit info; also benefits in terms of diversity of workforce

Nancy Mattax tells listeners that it is important for the person with mental issues to seek treatment yes, but to make that all important first phone call to talk with someone. It could be a friend, a co-worker or a relative, but seek out someone you can trust to talk to. She also says the best treatment for mental disorders is a combination of psycho-therapy and medications. For KSMU, I'm Mike Smith