The difference between “family responsibility” and “mental illness”

Oct 18, 2018 | Insights

As we all know the pressure of having a family can be stressful. For most, the rewards outweigh the costs.

Recently, I assessed a client whose Psychologist diagnosed her with Adjustment Disorder. The DSM-5 definition of this disorder is “the presence of emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor(s) occurring within 3 months of the onset of the stressor(s)”. Concerned with her frequent absense, Her employer wondered if she was mentally sound. Moreso, he wondered if she was capable of continuing her job. These concerns prompted them to request my intervention with a Functional Capacity Evaluation.

The results of the Evaluation

As it turns out, at the time she had a child that was presenting with rather severe behavioural problems. As a result, this burden required her attendance at various meetings and court hearings. Furthermore, this was the stressor causing the Adjustment Disorder and the reason for her frequent absense.

Assessment findings revealed no significant psychological or cognitive difficulties. Certainly, She was not mentally ill. She was able to attend to her usual duties at work. Therefore, her distress was justified. It was a normal reaction to her stressors. Her marked distress and impairment in functioning was separate from her symptoms.

So how should an employer handle such a situation? I suspect it’s all too common in our country at the moment.

With an appropriate amount of sympathy but with firm boundary setting.

Some compromises. Perhaps, working back the hours taken by familial tasks, in the office or at home if viable.

With referral to available support services such as EAP.

As a result, it would be reasonable to ask for the reason for an employee’s absense. The employer may doubt commitment to the job. They’ll probably want to make sure the employee isn’t “taking advantage” of the situation.

Enforcement of unpaid leave would be at the discretion of the employer. They should certainly consider the employee’s entire employment history.

I welcome your thoughts.

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