Working With A Mental Illness: Maintaining Financial Security

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. That may not seem like something to talk about on a personal finance blog, but it’s more important to discuss than ever.

Here at EYF we have three core values: optimization, education and security. We want to use education to help you build security even if you’re working with a mental illness. Ignorance shouldn’t be a barrier to your financial security and success.

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Who Is Working With A Mental Illness?

One in five adults in the United States experience mental illness in a given year. Most of those adults will experience major depression or an anxiety disorder.

Mental illness often leads to significant losses. Employers waste money by paying for absenteeism and presenteeism (employees who are there, but aren’t really there).  Employees are forced to cut back their hours, take more menial jobs or drop out of the workforce altogether.

Mental illness costs upward of $193 million in earnings each year.

It is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States and the number one cause in the world.

Mental Health Stigma Costs Us Big

You don’t need me to tell you that there’s significant stigma around mental illness. People are discriminated against, thought of as weak and expected to suck it up. Because mental illness is invisible, many people simply don’t believe that it’s real. If you struggle with mental illness learn your rights.

You have options.

For instance, many employees pay for short-term disability benefits without even realizing it.

Learn Your Rights: There Are Protections

Having a mental illness does not mean that you will be fired. In the United States, the law protects many employees from discrimination on the basis of their illness. Companies with 50 or more employees are required to attempt to provide reasonable accommodations. If, for example, you need time off to see your psychiatrist the company should be able to accommodate you.

Before telling anyone about your condition, it’s important to ask yourself why you want to disclose. Read the company culture. Is your direct supervisor someone you trust? Will he gossip? If not, maybe talking with someone in human resources would make more sense. Your direct supervisor may not know the rules about proper accommodation.

Human resources is probably the best source to learn your rights and options.

Benefits: Get What You’ve Paid For

If you have been with your company for some time — generally a year in the United States — check to see whether your company provides short-term disability coverage. Trying to work when you’re not well could do more harm than good. You may be able to get a temporary leave or partial reduction in hours to help you get better. You may also be able to receive partial reimbursement for lost wages. If you are having a tough time, strongly consider whether you can find a way to work with your company.

Don’t give up just because the first accommodation doesn’t work out. Leaving may cost you your health coverage. Without it you may struggle to treat and manage your illness.

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Consider All Of Your Options

Once you are doing better, it may be time to ask yourself whether you need to pursue alternative forms of employment.

Maybe you should consider temporary work, freelancing gigs or starting your own business.

You might want to pursue a job in an environment that is less triggering to you.

Or change fields entirely.

Working with a mental illness often provides a sense of purpose and is empowering. So if you can continue working, it’s definitely recommended.

That said, it isn’t your only option. If you simply cannot work, consider disability. If you have a support system, lean on them to help you make the difficult decision to withdraw from the workforce.

Most importantly, take care of yourself.

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