Millions of Americans living with mental health conditions lead happy, successful lives. People with very serious mental health and substance abuse problems might have trouble with basic needs, like finding a place to live, a job, or health care. Learn more about your legal rights, finding a job, and how to stay healthy during stressful transitions.
Many people with mental health conditions can and do work. Finding a job you enjoy can help improve your mental health and give you a sense of purpose. Studies show that most adults with a serious or severe mental health condition want to work and about six out of 10 can succeed with the right kind of support. More than one in every four women who work have a disability of some type (a physical disability or a mental health condition).
Women whose mental health conditions have affected their ability to accomplish daily tasks may have more trouble finding a job, especially if they have been out of the workforce for a long time. If you don’t have a full-time job right now, you may want to try a part-time job or volunteering before committing to full-time work. You can also take an online test, called a skills assessment or an interest assessment, which can help you learn more about the types of work you might enjoy.
Check with the mental health agency where you receive mental health services. Your state may offer several different ways to find employment, including:
- Vocational rehabilitation (rehab) services: Rehab services help a person with a serious mental health condition or disability find and keep a job. Different states and communities have different requirements for who is eligible to get vocational rehab services.
- Supported employment: This type of program helps people with serious mental illnesses get jobs in the community and be successful in the workplace.
- Clubhouses: Clubhouses are settings that allow people with serious mental health conditions to live and work together, providing services and support to one another.
- Local public employment office: The Department of Labor (DOL) operates employment offices in all 50 states. You can find job counselors and information about opportunities available in your area. Visit the DOL’s service locator to find an office near you.
If you are unable to work because of a mental health condition or any other disability, there are some options for financial support. These include disability insurance and disability payments through Social Security.
- Disability insurance: Some people purchase disability insurance policies, either on their own or through their employer, before a disability happens. If you’ve been paying each month into a disability insurance policy and now you are disabled and can’t work, you may be able to receive payments. Contact your employer or insurance company for more information.
- Social Security Income (SSI): SSI is cash assistance for people who have little to no income. The amount of cash you receive from SSI depends on your other income and living arrangements. Currently, the standard amount is about $700 per month for an individual, but your payment may be more or less, depending on where you live and what other help you may get. To find out whether you qualify for SSI benefits, visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) website or call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213.
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI provides monthly income to people who become disabled by a physical or mental health condition before retirement age. More than one in three people who receive SSDI get it because of a mental health condition.
If you are a member of the military, you can get your Social Security application processed faster. Learn more at the SSA’s site for veterans.
Most health plans cover preventive services, like depression screening for adults and behavioral assessments for children, at no additional cost. Most health insurance plans must cover treatment for mental health and substance use problems in the same ways medical or surgical problems are covered.
- If you have insurance, contact your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan.
- If you have Medicaid, your plan will provide some mental health services and may offer services to help with substance use disorders.
- If you have Medicare, your plan may help cover mental health services, including hospital stays, visits to a therapist, and medicines you may need.
If you do not have insurance, see whether you are eligible for free or low-cost health insurance (including Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Plan) at HealthCare.gov.
There is no law that requires you to share personal health information, including mental health conditions, with anyone you work with. Telling others about your mental health condition can affect your job in the future. If you want to tell someone you work with about your mental health illness, think about your reasons carefully. It might help to make a list of the good and bad outcomes of telling your manager or someone in human resources.
Your employer must make reasonable accommodations if they know about your mental health condition, but employers do not have to accommodate disabilities that they don’t know about. This may help you decide whether you tell your employer about your mental health condition.
Many federal laws protect the rights of people with disabilities, including mental health conditions. The main law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It mostly protects people from discrimination at work and in public places and programs.
Under the ADA, you are protected if:
- Your mental health condition (if left untreated) interferes with your ability to get things done at home or at work
- You can perform the essential functions of a job you have or hope to get, with or without reasonable accommodations (such as a flexible work schedule)
Other laws that protect people with disabilities include:
- The Fair Housing Act. This law makes it illegal to deny housing to a renter or buyer because of a disability. Owners must also make reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities.
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law requires that a free public education be made available to children and youth with disabilities. It also requires that the education be designed to meet their unique educational needs.
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law is very broad and requires that all federal programs, activities, and employment be accessible to people with disabilities. It served as the foundation for the ADA and helps people with disabilities become employed and independent.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from discrimination based on disability, including harassment related to disability. For example, you cannot be fired just because you take medicine for a mental health condition. However, an employer can fire you for poor performance. It is better to ask for reasonable accommodations before a disability causes problems with job performance. Under the ADA:
- Your employer must make reasonable accommodations if they know about your mental health condition. Your employer is allowed to ask for documentation from a health care professional about your condition. The documentation does not need to be detailed.
- Employers do not have to accommodate disabilities that they don’t know about. This may help you decide whether you tell your employer about your mental health condition.
- If your employer knows about your disability and you are having a difficult time doing your job, your employer is allowed to ask whether you need reasonable accommodations.
- An employer can’t legally ask questions about your medical or psychiatric history during an interview.
- An employer is allowed to ask you questions that help the employer decide whether you can perform essential duties of a job. An employer may ask you about your ability to meet the physical requirements for jobs involving physical labor, your ability to get along with people, or your ability to finish tasks on time and to come to work every day.
Examples of reasonable accommodations for people with mental health conditions may include:
- Providing self-paced workloads and flexible hours
- Adjusting your job responsibilities
- Allowing leave (paid or unpaid) if you are hospitalized or temporarily unable to work
- Assigning a flexible, supportive, and understanding supervisor
- Changing your work hours to allow you to attend psychiatrist or therapist appointments
- Providing more support or supervision, such as writing to-do lists and checking in more often with your supervisor
An employer does not have to provide these specific accommodations, but these types of accommodations are often considered reasonable for some jobs.
If you have experienced employment discrimination because of your mental health condition, you can file an administrative charge or complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state or local anti-discrimination agency. You can also file a lawsuit in court, but only after filing an administrative charge.
The Fair Housing Act bars discrimination in rental housing for people with disabilities. This means that property owners or managers cannot refuse to rent to you because of a disability, including mental health conditions. Learn more about the Fair Housing Act. If you believe you have been discriminated against, you can file a housing complaint online through the Fair Housing Act.
During stressful times like job and housing transitions, you can try the following tips to stay mentally healthy:
- Take your medicines. If you take medicines for a mental health condition, do not stop taking them without first talking with your doctor or nurse.
- Have a plan. Learn about the things that help you feel well and about the things that cause you to feel stressed. Develop a plan so that you can identify warning signs that your mental or physical health might be slipping and an action plan for getting the support you need to stay well.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can affect your mental and physical health. It can also make it more difficult to cope with mental health conditions.
- Reach out to your support network. Tell your friends and family if you are going through something like a job or housing transition. Ask for help if you need it.
- Be physically healthy. Getting active, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and eating the right amount of healthy foods from across the food groups help your body and mind feel better.
- Get professional help. Keep your appointments with a mental health professional such as a therapist, counselor, or social worker. This person can help notice signs of mental health conditions getting worse.
- McQuilken, M., Zahniser, J.H., Novak, J., Starks, R.D., Olmos, A., Bond, G.R. (2003). The Work Project Survey: Consumer Perspectives on Work. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation; 18: 59–68.
- Marshall, T., Goldberg, R.W., Braude, L., Dougherty, R.H., Daniels, A.S., Ghose, S.S., et al. (2014). Supported Employment: Assessing the Evidence (PDF, 504 KB). Psychiatric Services; 65(1): 16–23.
- U.S. Department of Labor. (2016). Table A-6. Employment status of the civilian population by sex, age, and disability status, not seasonally adjusted.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2009). Supported Employment (PDF, 777 KB).
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Supplemental Security Income (SSI) And Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Content last updated August 28, 2018