Navigating the Roadblocks of Invisible Disabilities – Teresa’s Story
By Virginia Shutt, MS, CRC, CEAS
Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist
The Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in six U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016).
Employers are significantly affected when mental health issues strike an employee, whether that impact is felt first through a health plan or a disability case. While the medical system focuses on diagnosis and treatment, employers often focus on symptoms and how to reduce or eliminate their impact on the employee’s functional abilities. This mental health return-to-work (RTW) process is very similar to the RTW process for other conditions such as musculoskeletal problems, cancer, or digestive disorders.
Recently, we worked with an employee who was off work on a long-term disability (LTD) claim due to a mental health condition; we will call her “Teresa Jones” to protect her privacy. I was her vocational rehabilitation counselor and primary service contact at Guardian. Teresa never expected life to take this turn, but with our help, she navigated the winding road around her symptoms and back to work. She later told us that returning to work was a core part of her progress in wellness.
She had been working over 25 years at her church’s preschool, serving the past nine years as the Preschool Director, and she had been dedicated to her job and the needs of the students and their families 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She found immense joy and satisfaction in working with her students, their families, and the church community. She felt quite confident that the work she was doing was good and important. She had grown into her role as Director by working at virtually every position in the program, and much of her self-worth was tied into the preschool and her work in it.
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