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The hiring process for any company or organization is difficult, but especially when it comes to mental health.

Many people face mental health discrimination in the workplace, and it starts with the hiring process. Because recruiters and employers can’t legally ask about a candidate’s mental health and or general health, supporting mental health in the workplace as a recruiter can be challenging.

But it’s not impossible. Just because you can’t ask explicit questions about a person’s mental health doesn’t mean that recruiters can’t figure out if a candidate would make a good employee. 

It’s also important for employers to know how to support mental health in the workplace and avoid workplace discrimination against people with mental health challenges. Mental illness affects one in five Americans, so it’s very likely that recruiters would hire a person with a mental illness. But that doesn’t mean that person can’t do their job. 

Hiring and Mental Health

How To Handle Mental Health Questions in the Hiring Process

1. Legally recruiters can’t ask candidates about their health and mental health conditions.

However, recruiters can ask questions about a candidate’s ability to handle certain responsibilities. They might ask how the candidate would handle certain situations or pressures of the job. Then they can assess from there whether the candidate is fit for the position.

2. Candidates should avoid disclosing that they have a mental illness in a job interview. 

Not only is it not the employer’s business, but it may work against them in being considered for the job, no matter how qualified they are. For candidates, it’s important to assess the work environment and see if the recruiters show signs of compassion and are not judgmental.

The interview process is for both the recruiters and the candidates to decide if they’re a good fit. If a candidate has a mental illness and is afraid they won’t be accepted in the workplace, the interview is a good place to get a sense of the workplace culture.

3. Although you can’t legally ask about mental health issues or illnesses, you can ask questions related to their ability to do the job. 

For recruiters, there are ways to test the waters and see if the candidate is mentally fit for the job. Recruiters can ask behavioral-based questions, such as how the candidate handles stressful situations and deadlines. They can give scenarios and ask how the candidate would handle those situations.

Here’s an example: a woman runs a camp for teenagers and had issues in the past with counselors who had mental health issues: 

  • One engaged in self-harm behaviors and had an eating disorder, making her not a great role model for the teens. 
  • The other had PTSD and would get flashbacks in the dark, which was a problem on overnight camping trips.

This employer didn’t want to hire people with mental health conditions that would affect their ability to do their jobs. So when interviewing candidates, she asked specific questions about how the candidate would handle a situation that could be triggering to someone with a mental illness or mental health-related issue.

Mental Health and Hiring

Reserve Judgment About Mental Health in the Hiring Process 

It’s especially important for recruiters to reserve judgment in the hiring process. If a recruiter judges a person for having a mental illness, they’re not considering the whole person. Remember why and how the person got to be in front of you applying for and being considered for this job.

Pay attention to the candidate and be humane with your decision. You don’t want to set either the candidate or the client up for failure by selecting someone who won’t be able to fulfill their duties. You also can’t discriminate against someone with a diagnosed mental illness.

If a candidate demonstrates clear focus and ability to do their job, there is no reason not to hire them if the only barrier to them getting the job is that they have a mental illness. 

If you find out that someone you hired has a mental illness, do not judge them for it. Instead, see how you can help them. 

What support can you give? How do you eradicate mental health discrimination in the workplace?

Look at the candidate’s accomplishments. Don’t be biased or pass judgment based on the personal attributes of the candidate that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job. You aren’t a mental health or medical professional. Recruiters shouldn’t pass judgment on anyone – you’re simply gathering data.

Mental Health Education

Educate Yourself About Mental Health Issues 

It’s important to educate yourselves about mental health issues. This goes for recruiters, employers, and people in HR. Read about mental health issues and mental illness. Learn about the most common mental health issues in the workplace such as anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.

You should learn to identify signs and symptoms of mental health issues both in the hiring process as well as when the employee is at work.

Employers, we encourage you to be honest and have an open conversation with the candidate or employee about mental health. You might even be able to offer solutions based on their specific needs. Frank conversations are best and build trust.

What Does Your Company Offer To Support Mental Health in the Workplace?

HR is a great resource to support mental health in the workplace. If you find out one of your employees has a mental illness, you need to have a plan in place to support them if it’s affecting their ability to do their job.

Communication is key. Talk about how you support employee mental health in the workplace in the interview. Take Mental Health First Aid courses to help understand candidate and employee mental health needs. These courses help identify signs of stress as different from unprofessional behavior. 

Employees with mental illness actually diversify the company.

Recruiters, employers, and the HR team need to work together to support employee and candidate workplace mental health. Mental health discrimination in the workplace is negative for everyone involved.

Free Consultation for Mental Health

Next Steps

If you want to discuss resources for how to avoid discrimination for mental health in the hiring process, we are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation today.

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