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Does History in a Mental Institution Prevent Me From Getting a Good Job?

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Searching for a job while coping with mental health issues is challenging enough, but it’s especially intimidating when you’ve spent time in a psychiatric facility. It doesn’t automatically ruin your chances of landing your dream job, however. In some cases you won’t even need to mention it, and in others you can frame it in a way that doesn’t detract from your qualifications.

Legal Considerations

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, you’re not required to tell prospective employers about your time in a mental facility. If they do know about it, they can’t ask for details. For example, they can’t ask how long you stayed or what treatments you received. However, you might not be able to conceal your mental health history from employers who conduct extensive background checks, especially when applying for government, military or law enforcement jobs. For example, notes that admission to a hospital or mental health facility or care by a physician for more than six months for mental health issues is grounds for an automatic rejection.

Employment Gaps

While you don’t have to disclose your mental health history, you will have to address the gap in your work history created by your time in treatment. Only disclose as much as you’re comfortable with. For example, tell employers you were dealing with health problems without specifying you had mental health issues. If you were in and out of psychiatric facilities or had trouble holding down a job, your resume could portray you as a “job hopper.” In this case, you could say you had recurrent health issues that required frequent hospitalization.

Disclosing Your Illness

How you reveal your mental health issues can make or break your chances of getting the job. If you’re recovered or have your condition under control, stress that it won’t impede your job performance. For example, tell employers you spent time in a mental health facility a few years ago after a battle with depression, but that you’re recovered and have been steadily employed ever since. Or, say that you needed inpatient treatment to learn how to cope with your condition but that it no longer interferes with your work or personal life.

Focusing on the Future

You can sometimes minimize the negative impact of past mental problems by steering the conversation toward your qualifications, career goals and enthusiasm for the job. If you discuss your hospitalization, keep your explanation brief. Mention what you learned during your time there or how it changed your life. For example, tell employers that after years of your condition interfering with work, you left the facility with renewed commitment and enthusiasm for your career. If you’ve been employed since then, quickly move on to your stellar work performance and your recent accomplishments.

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