Earlier this month, wonk/lady hero Rachel Maddow received quite a bit of attention when she admitted in Rolling Stone that she suffers from what she called “cyclical depression.” In the profile, Maddow was candid about something that many individuals struggling with depression and bipolar disorder have a hard time opening up about: How feeling low can impact motivation, focus, and the ability to do one’s job. Because, unlike other diseases or ailments, when it comes to the workplace, depression is still pretty largely misunderstood.
Maddow articulated something, both in Rolling Stone and on NPR’s Fresh Air in March, that many individuals have experienced in their work–that depression is more than just weepy sadness and eating excessive amounts of pizza.
“One of the manifestations of depression for me is that I lose my will. And I thereby lose my ability to focus,” she told the magazine.
And therein lies the trouble of depression in the workplace.
Unlike a disease or condition that manifests itself physically, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and similar recognized mental health conditions have relatively few outward symptoms, which can make it hard to convince an employer or coworker that there’s really something the matter. Coupled with the Western philosophy of “get over it” or “suck it up,” and individuals who are really hurting usually end up keeping their struggles to themselves, even though their work is being impeded by their depression.
But consider this–if you have a chronic condition, like, say, irritable bowel syndrom, when it flares up, you call in sick and stay home and deal wit it. But if you wake up one morning feeling morose, hopeless, unfocused, unmotivated, and lethargic beyond all reason, would you feel comfortable calling in to work and saying you wouldn’t be coming in, because your depression was acting up? And, perhaps more importantly, would your boss be OK with that?
Legally speaking, and with plenty of caveats, she kind of has to be, as long as you’re qualified and capable of doing your job.
In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended, which expanded its protection to individuals with depression. And while your depression may or may not feel “disabling” to you, it’s important to know what your rights are, and what you can reasonably expect from your employer, with regard to your depression. To get some help clarifying this complex world of legal and linguistic tongue-twisters, I got some information from the Job Accommodation Network, regarding the resources and requirements for both employers and employees. Here’s what I learned: