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Talking About Treatment at Work: The Do's and Don'ts

There's no doubt that seeking treatment for a substance use or mental health disorder can be one of the best decisions you make for yourself. The gifts of recovery can be life-changing, and getting the help you need can propel your entire future forward.

With that, many people feel unsure about how to navigate their treatment when it comes to their employer, colleagues, or HR. You want to come across as professional, but you may also need necessary accommodations to perform your work successfully. And if everyone's gathering around for Happy Hour drinks, you may want to have a script you can refer to if people ask why you're not partaking. At the same time, it's reasonable to worry about being stigmatized or treated differently.

Let's unpack what you need to know.

Start With Your Employer Policies

Before discussing treatment history or treatment schedules, look into your company's current drug and alcohol policy and benefits program. If you anticipate needing to take any prolonged time off work, you should also examine their sick leave and PTO policies. Keep in mind that many organizations offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to offer confidential support for individuals experiencing emotional distress.

Educate Yourself on Your Legal Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides legal protection to employees with mental health and substance use histories. For example, employers can't discriminate against candidates with histories of addiction or other mental health issues.

With that, you also need to know the exceptions. For example, employers can drug test and discharge or deny employment to employees actively using drugs. In addition, when you work for an at-will employer, you can still be terminated for other reasons (which may or may not have to do with your work-related performance).

The ADA also protects those with psychiatric disabilities or mental illnesses (terms that are often used interchangeably). If this is you, you have legal rights, and your work must comply with providing reasonable accommodations for you to perform your work. With that, disclosure is a choice, and you do not have to share your mental health status whatsoever at work.

Consider Your Intent for Talking About Treatment

If you plan to disclose your health history, it's important to reflect on what you hope to achieve by sharing your treatment with your colleagues or employer. You might, for instance, want accommodations for a flexible work schedule that allow you to attend your therapy appointments or IOP program. Or, you simply might want professional support, especially if you work in an environment where drugs and alcohol may be more easily accessible.

Identify Your Hesitation or Concern

If you don't plan on telling your work about your mental health or treatment, you absolutely have that right. But it's also important to consider the potential downsides of staying silent. For example, if you have ADHD, you might really benefit from securing extra time to finish assignments or the ability to use headphones while working. Failing to share your diagnosis with your employer could mean you risk cutting yourself short at work.

Consider the Relationship You Have With Your Employer

Like all relationships in life, some dynamics work better than others. You and your employer may get along well, and you might feel very comfortable sharing your feelings and needs with them. On the flip side, the dynamic might be more tense or uncomfortable, causing you to feel anxious at work. It's important to be mindful of these feelings, as they may guide you into deciding how or what you choose to share at work.

Rehearse What You Want to Say Ahead of Time

Some people find it helpful to rehearse their disclosures in advance. This can make the process feel less daunting, and it may ensure that you actually say what you want to say. With that, you might also find that you feel more comfortable writing down your concerns in an email. That is also permissible, and the benefit of that approach is that it initiates a paper trail, which may be important for potential legal or medical-related issues that could arise.

Final Thoughts About Sharing Treatment at Work

There is no right or wrong way to talk about your mental health needs in the workplace. While many employers are becoming more open-minded and aware of the impact on mental health and its employees, not every company is as receptive. You will need to discern the best decision for your individual circumstances. A therapist, life coach, or supportive loved one can be helpful in making these weighted choices.

At Resurface Group, we specialize in treating individuals experiencing all substance use and mental health issues. We provide the needed bridge between acute residential or hospitalization treatment and outpatient care. Many of our clients work part-time or full-time, and we are here to ensure your professional and personal success.

Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic programs, including Resurface Connect, our new comprehensive, fully virtual IOP track.

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