Feature Archive

Job Rights for the Mentally Ill

Employers beware. All illnesses must be treated equally.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin

Laura Baxter knew her work was suffering, but she didn't want to tell her boss the reason.

For years, Baxter (not her real name) had taken antidepressants for major depression. But now her medication was failing. As her doctor searched for a better drug, Baxter began to lose sleep and couldn't think clearly. "I could barely get out of bed to brush my teeth or shower," she says. "At work I was getting nothing done."

To make matters worse, a new supervisor took over Baxter's department in the biotechnology firm where she did research. Unaware of what good work Baxter had done before her illness, he was moving to fire her. "I knew I was about to get canned," she says, "but I also felt, from comments he'd made, that he would not be sympathetic if I told him what was the matter."

It's a dilemma faced by millions of Americans. One in five Americans suffers from a mental illness, says Jennifer Heffron, an attorney with the National Mental Health Association. "But most people have no idea which of their co-workers are coping with it. It's very personal information and most people do not like to disclose this about themselves because of the stereotypes surrounding the issue."