Rocky Mountain ADA Center Announces Five Tips for Establishing a Mentally Healthy Workplace

In Honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Rocky Mountain ADA Center Addresses Hidden Workplace Issue
May 10, 2012 - PRLog -- In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Rocky Mountain ADA Center is bringing awareness to the hidden issue of mental health and the workplace. Mental health problems affect many employees. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness one in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans— experience a mental health disorder in a given year. This fact is usually overlooked and employers struggle addressing it because these disorders tend to be hidden at work. Some people are surprised to learn that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers individuals with psychiatric, as well as physical, disabilities.

The ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities that fall into one of three categories:

* Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities

* Have a record of such an impairment

* Or are regarded as having such an impairment

The ADA defines mental impairment to include psychiatric disabilities including mental illness. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (which include panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder), schizophrenia, and personality disorders.

“One of the ADA’s primary goals is to promote equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities,” said Jana Burke, the director of the Rocky Mountain ADA Center. “Achieving this goal requires employers to move beyond mental health stereotypes and to assess the qualifications and performance of workers on an individual basis. Employees with psychiatric disabilities can bring unique skills and sensitivities that significantly add to the quality and diversity of the workplace.”

Burke suggests that all employers should implement the following five tactics to create a mentally healthy workplace that is open and welcoming so that employees can be at their best, free from judgment.

1. Be proactive: Don’t wait for problems to come to you. Examine culture, norms, policies and expectations to find out what you can change to create an environment that’s conducive to promoting mental health. Be sure to train all levels of management on mental health matters and make sure they are actively involved with your mental health messaging. Let employees know you recognize and understand the challenges they face, and that your management is there to support them.

2. Break down the barriers: An employer can play a vital role in reducing the stigma associated with mental health conditions. Stigma begins with stereotypes and hurtful labels. Challenge negative assumptions about mental health problems and recovery from them. Employees and managers at all levels of the organization need to learn about mental health conditions, stress and wellness. Encourage staff at all levels to look past the label and use “people-first” language (i.e., “a person with schizophrenia,” as opposed to the dehumanizing term, “a schizophrenic”).

3. Make mental health a priority: Invest in mental health benefits, including prevention and educational programs. Innovative employers recognize that they play an essential role in their employees’ mental health not only by paying for a large portion of treatment but also by creating an environment in which people feel comfortable accessing care.

4. Promote well-being: Provide managers with information and strategies on how to foster a mentally healthy work environment. Some ways employers can promote well-being include ensuring that employees have a good work/life balance, engaging employees in their work, introducing flexible work hours, promoting positive working relationships, clearly communicating staff responsibilities and expectations, and encouraging exercise and social events.

5. Encourage dialogue: Foster a safe environment where people feel comfortable discussing wellness concerns. Send the message that mental health conditions are real and treatable. Provide employees with the skills and confidence to talk to a colleague about mental health issues. Organizations that can talk candidly about mental health help set a positive tone.

The Rocky Mountain ADA Center is a valuable resource for employers and employees as they seek ways to accommodate people with psychiatric disabilities. The Rocky Mountain ADA Center is operated by Meeting the Challenge, Inc. and provides information, materials and training to individuals and organizations with rights and responsibilities under the ADA. The Rocky Mountain ADA Center serves a six state region including Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

To contact the Rocky Mountain ADA Center directly, e-mail or call (800) 949-4232.

About the Rocky Mountain ADA Center:
The Rocky Mountain ADA Center is operated by Meeting the Challenge, Inc. and provides information, training and informal guidance to individuals and organizations with rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Center is one of 10 regional centers funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, a division of the U.S. Department of Education, and serves a six-state region including Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. For more information, visit

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