The conversation about mental health is seemingly everywhere. Publications like the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review have recently featured the topic, and the blogosphere and podcasting worlds are similarly awash with opportunities to engage on the topic.
There is good reason for the explosion of mental-health related information. Statistics about the prevalence of mental health conditions in the United States abound. According to one study, 46% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in theirThese conditions range from mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or chronic mild depression, to anxiety disorders, and to neurological disorders such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Many individuals with severe mental health issues do not work, but most with milder or even moderate cases are employed. One recent study found that 76% of employed individuals stated they experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the
The construction industry is not immune to these trends, and, in fact, multiple studies in recent years have concluded that the rate of mental health concerns among those employed in the construction industry is high. Among the more alarming statistics is that individuals working in construction have a suicide rate that is four times greater than in the general population, and workers in the industry are 6 to 7 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than workers in other groups.
Against this background, there remains an impression in the workplace, including in the construction industry, that mental health is a topic like religion or politics: it is best to be kept out of the workplace. After all, the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) requires employers to maintain employee health information, including information about mental health, as confidential. Further compounding the issue is the breadth of the definition of a mental disability under the ADA, which is a “mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(A). The ADA regulations further define a mental impairment as “any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual disability . . ., organic brain syndrome, emotion or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h)(2). Isn’t it best, given the broad scope of the statutory definitions and confidentiality obligations, to avoid the topic?