By Matt Lalande in Long-Term Disability on December 28, 2023
Did you know that “can’t hold a job…mental illness” is one of the most searched terms on Google for people suffering from mental illness?
Individuals with severe mental illness often face difficult challenges in maintaining employment due to fluctuations in symptoms leading to inconsistent performance, as individuals may have periods of heightened issues like anxiety, depression, or psychosis that make focusing, decision-making, and interacting with others difficult.
Also at issue can be the side effects of medication, such as drowsiness or cognitive impairment, which can further hinder work capacity. The need for frequent medical appointments or hospitalizations can also lead to absences that employers may not always accommodate. Additionally, the stress of the workplace can exacerbate mental health conditions, leading to a cycle where symptoms make working hard, and working in turn makes symptoms worse. All these factors combined make it challenging for individuals with severe mental illnesses to secure and sustain employment.
In this article, we will guide you through a short review of the more serious mental health conditions that can prevent a person from working or maintaining a job, some suggestions on navigating mental illness at work, demystify the access to long-term disability benefits and explain the importance of CPP Disability if you can no longer work at any competitive gainful employment.
Mental illness can make it hard for someone to keep a job or do well at work, especially when the illness is severe.
First, many people with serious mental illnesses have trouble thinking clearly. They might find it hard to remember things, focus, or make decisions. For instance, someone with schizophrenia might get easily confused or forget what they’re supposed to do. Or, if someone is dealing with deep depression, they might move and think so slowly that even simple tasks feel impossible. This can make it hard to do a good job or keep up with work.
Then there are mood problems, like bipolar disorder or major depression. When someone is deeply depressed, they might feel so sad and tired that they can’t even get out of bed, let alone go to work.
On the other hand, if they’re having a manic episode (like bipolar disorder), they might make risky decisions or act impulsively, which can be dangerous at work. These extreme mood swings can make someone’s work performance go up and down a lot, which is tough for both the worker and their boss.
The unpredictability of mental illness is another big issue. Symptoms can come and go without warning. This means someone might be fine one day and then really struggle the next. It’s hard for them and their employer to plan around this, making steady work a real challenge.
Medication can help a lot, but it often comes with its own set of problems. Some meds make people feel really tired, dizzy, or even confused. Others might cause shaky hands or make it hard to think clearly. While these drugs are trying to help manage the symptoms of the illness, they can also make it tough for someone to do their job well.
In the worst cases, all these challenges can lead to someone not being able to work at all. This can make their mental health even worse, as they might feel more stressed or cut off from other people. It’s a tough cycle.
Some of the more common mental disorders that are linked to job instability and job loss are:
Major depression – for example, is a brutal and devastating condition that can engulf an individual’s life with overwhelming darkness. It’s much more than just feeling sad; it’s a relentless and deep-seated despair that can drain the joy, energy, and hope from every aspect of existence. Those suffering might feel trapped in a perpetual state of worthlessness and hopelessness, struggling to perform even the simplest tasks. The intense emotional pain can lead to a profound sense of isolation, making the world seem bleak and life itself feel unbearable. Major depression is not just a state of mind but a serious health condition that can have a profound impact on both mental and physical well-being.
Anxiety disorders – also pose considerable challenges in the workplace. Individuals may struggle with concentration or face overwhelming stress during routine tasks, often resulting in absenteeism or reduced productivity—affecting their job security and progression.
Bipolar disorder – introduces another layer of complexity with its fluctuating episodes of mania and depression. The unpredictability associated with bipolar disorder can lead to inconsistent performance at work.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) might be less discussed but is no less impactful on job retention; PTSD sufferers may experience flashbacks or severe anxiety that impede daily functioning within professional settings.
Schizophrenia – working with schizophrenia can be extremely difficult due to its disruptive symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking. These can make focusing, communicating, and managing tasks nearly impossible. Cognitive challenges, such as memory and attention issues, further hinder job performance. The unpredictable and severe nature of these symptoms often makes maintaining regular employment an overwhelming challenge for many individuals with schizophrenia.
Deciding whether to disclose a mental illness to an employer is deeply personal and hinges on various factors. It’s not just about being open; it’s about understanding the potential impact on your career trajectory and workplace relationships. Before making this choice, consider the culture of your organization and weigh the benefits of having accommodations against possible stigma or misunderstandings.
In Ontario, under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), employees are entitled to specific provisions for time off related to mental health. Employees can take up to three unpaid days off each calendar year for mental health or stress-related struggles, and these days are not necessarily required to be related to work-induced issues. The Act ensures that employees who have been with an employer for at least two consecutive weeks are entitled to this unpaid leave. This leave can be used to address mental health concerns, stress, anxiety, or burnout, allowing employees some time off to recover and manage their health without the worry of losing their job
Even more important is that employers have duties under the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate employees with disabilities, including mental health conditions, up to the point of undue hardship. This means they must make adjustments for you to do your job effectively while managing your condition—whether that involves flexible hours, modified workloads, or other necessary changes.
Yet disclosing carries risks as well as advantages—it can lead to support but also potentially unfair treatment or discrimination. Be aware that employment laws in Ontario protect workers from such discrimination; nonetheless, practicality dictates considering how disclosure might realistically play out in one’s specific work environment.
Mental health is non-negotiable. When signs of mental health become so intense that they impede your capacity to perform at work, it is not only wise but essential to take a break and concentrate on healing. Recognizing these signs and when it is time for a break from work is crucial for maintaining their mental health and ensuring they can perform effectively in the long term. Here are some key factors to be aware of:
Increased Symptoms – a noticeable increase in the frequency or intensity of symptoms, such as heightened anxiety, deeper depression, or more frequent mood swings, can be a clear sign. When these symptoms start to interfere significantly with daily tasks and work responsibilities, it might be time to step back and focus on recovery.
Decreased performance – if there’s a marked decline in your work performance, such as missing deadlines, making more mistakes than usual, or struggling to concentrate, this could indicate that mental health issues are starting to impact your work life. Recognizing this early and taking a break can prevent further decline and potential consequences at work.
Physical Exhaustion – mental illness can take a physical toll, leading to chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, or a weakened immune system. When someone feels constantly drained and unable to recharge, it’s a sign that the body and mind need a rest.
But how do you approach this sensitive conversation with your employer?
Remember – your right to a healthy workplace isn’t just moral; it’s backed by law. Employers in Ontario have an obligation under the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate employees up to the point of undue hardship. This means if mental illness affects your job performance, accommodations must be made. If you have any questions, contact our Hamilton Disability Lawyers for more information.
Mental illness can be as crippling to your work life as any physical injury. However, the route to obtaining long-term disability benefits may not be straightforward – and in fact – many disability claims for mental illness are denied. Here’s what you need to know:
In Ontario, before setting sights on long-term disability (LTD) benefits, you need to first apply for short term disability or Employment Insurance (EI). This is known as the elimination period. The elimination period in long-term disability insurance is the waiting time between when a disability starts and when you begin receiving benefits.
Commonly ranging from 30 to 365 days, this period serves as a deductible in time, ensuring the disability is severe and long-term enough to need extended benefits. Longer elimination periods typically mean lower policy premiums. When choosing a policy, consider how long you can manage without benefits, as this will help determine the most suitable elimination period for your needs.
Then, to qualify for LTD in Ontario during the first two years, your clinical situation must fit within your policy’s definition of total disability.
That usually means that because of your symptoms of mental illness, you’re unable to perform the substantial duties of your own occupation.
Reaching the two-year point while receiving long-term disability benefits for mental illness is a critical juncture. This milestone typically signals a shift in policy definition that can impact your continued eligibility.
Initially, coverage under the “own occupation” provision allows you to receive benefits if you’re unable to perform the substantial duties of your specific job role because of your condition. But, at the two year mark, most policies transition from an “own occupation” definition to an “any occupation” standard.
This means that to keep getting financial support, now you must demonstrate that your mental health symptoms prevent you from doing your own occupation (job you had at the time of the onset of disability) but any employment for which you are reasonably suited by education, training, or experience. This is otherwise known as the “any occupation” provision.
This change does not signify a termination of benefits; but rather it sets up a new threshold for assessment—where comprehending and navigating complex insurance terms becomes more important than ever.
If you’re grappling with a severe mental illness that consistently interrupts your ability to maintain a job – it might be a good idea to consider applying for the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Disability. Applying for CPP Disability is a viable option for people dealing with a persistent and serious disability that prevents them from performing regular gainful employment.
The application process can be a bit difficult, but it’s crucial because CPP Disability offers more than just financial support; it provides peace of mind during challenging times.
To qualify, your condition must meet specific criteria set by the federal government. It needs to be both “severe” and “prolonged,” meaning it’s expected to last indefinitely or result in death. But don’t let these terms intimidate you; if your mental health disrupts work life significantly, this could very well apply to you.
If approved for CPP Disability benefits, your LTD carrier will usually offset or reduce your LTD payment dollar-for-dollar based on what you receive from CPP. Think of it as redistributing rather than losing funds – ensuring ongoing support while balancing resources provided by different programs.
Severe mental illnesses frequently disrupt individuals’ ability to maintain consistent work performance, often necessitating reliance on long-term disability benefits. Conditions like major depression, schizophrenia, or severe anxiety can impair a person’s concentration, decision-making, and ability to handle stress, making regular employment challenging. Consequently, long-term disability benefits become a critical financial resource for claimants to help pay their bills and provide a financial lifeline, helping to cover daily living expenses, medical bills, and ongoing care costs.
The problem, however, is that Disability insurance companies often deny long-term disability benefits for mental illness claims due to their subjective nature. Unlike physical ailments, mental illnesses are harder to quantify and prove, leading to skepticism about the severity and consistency of the disability. If this sounds like your situation, our long-term disability lawyers can help.
Our Hamilton disability lawyers can provide much-needed support and guidance during what is likely a very difficult time. You can reach us no matter where you are in Ontario by calling us at 1-844-LALANDE or local in Southern Ontario at 905-333-8888. You can also send us a confidential email and we would be happy to set up your free consultation today to discuss your denied benefits and the extent to which your bipolar disorder prevents you from working.
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