By Craig Booker
October 12, 2023

3 ways to improve hiring for people with mental illness

Explore steps employers can take to foster a more inclusive hiring process for individuals with mental health challenges.

Updating your LinkedIn profile, tweaking your resume, searching through job listings, and preparing for interviews, the process of finding a job is a stressful one. Today, more and more people who find themselves out of work are living with a mental health condition. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults, or 57.8 million Americans, has a mental health condition. While many organizations invest in mental health, there is still a long way to go to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace.

We have all been there. Whether your job was eliminated, you got fired, or you chose to move on, being suddenly out of work takes its toll on everyone. The transition from being steadily employed to being out of work creates a high level of uncertainty in all of us. The impact of the sudden disruption often causes a loss of identity, self-worth, financial security, and relationships. In addition to the common ripple effect of job loss, those experiencing ongoing mental health challenges now face additional challenges in pursuing new opportunities.

In many organizations today, employers are waking up to the importance of creating a healthy work environment for everyone. It is common to see employers reexamining benefits, including paid time off and improving their employee assistance program (EAP). An essential part of making positive changes to create a healthy workforce is prioritizing employee well-being at every stage in the employee lifecycle. There is no better place to begin than the application and hiring process.

For recruiters, the hiring process is filled with challenges. Attracting and retaining top talent remains one of the biggest obstacles employers face today. Recruiters struggle to find qualified applicants, making a challenging market more competitive. The dramatic rise in demand for flexible work environments increases the complexity of filling roles. On top of that, inflation is pushing job candidates to ask for more money.

For individuals with mental health challenges, improving three areas would go a long way in creating a more inclusive hiring process. The first category is providing clear expectations, job descriptions, and requirements. Next is improving communication by providing timely updates and establishing an open line of communication. Lastly, employers can improve their company brand by discussing everything it does to support employees.

Here are three ways employers can create an inclusive hiring process:

  1. Set clear, inclusive job descriptions, expectations, and requirements
  2. Communicate with candidates at every step of the process
  3. Show everyone how you support your team

Set clear, inclusive job descriptions

Job descriptions must be one of the most frustrating parts of searching for work. A survey conducted by Eightfold AI polling 913 employees and 259 HR leaders found a “vague or confusing” job description was the employees’ second most common reason for not applying. In one case, you will find a job listing littered with fancy wording or one that tries to be overly clever. In other listings, the company lists everything they have ever wanted in this role. This description overflows with trendy industry buzzwords, almost like they are playing a game of buzzword bingo.

By setting clear, reasonable expectations, the job description saves time for everyone involved in the recruiting process. This is also a great place to showcase that your company values people of all types, abilities, backgrounds, and nationalities. Instead of making the description excessively long, providing a short description of the company’s values with a link to read more might be helpful. Regardless of what a company chooses to include, understand that words matter, helping to create a more inclusive workplace.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Applying for and interviewing for a job is a rough process. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common feelings for anyone searching for a job. When we experience high stress levels regarding our future, our brains often see the worst in any situation. One of the best ways to eliminate this tendency in the hiring process is to communicate at every step.

Whether through an automated email to let candidates know the company received their application or a kind note to update them on the interview process, it helps tremendously. This might seem like a little thing, but it makes a massive difference in the quality of life for the applicant. Another great option to show kindness and reflect company culture is providing an open line of communication. This could be as simple as an email address with the expectation that the company will do its best to respond within a designated period, Monday through Friday.

Show everyone how you support your team

The last and one of the best ways to differentiate the company is by showing how employees are supported. This starts by providing easy ways to request accommodations for those applying for roles within the company. It continues by showing how the organization values the health and well-being of the team. It involves removing barriers to accommodations and speaking about mental health initiatives such as free Mental Health First Aid training for all employees.

While these three areas are merely the beginning, they symbolize something even greater. These small, practical steps embody what began during a very challenging time for the U.S. and humanity. Out of the dark moments of the pandemic, we began to see and value people in new ways. As we continue to move forward, let us embrace the lessons to make changes for the better.

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About Craig Booker

Craig Booker is the founder of Overflow, a community for anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. He is a freelance writer and mental health advocate. Craig is an Edmond native with a bachelor's degree in Business Management from the University of Central Oklahoma. He is passionate about creating a safe space where people can be authentic, knowing they will find love, acceptance, and encouragement. Craig hosts a weekly podcast called, The Overflow Podcast," where he talks about mental health and personal growth. In each episode, Craig shares practical ways to positively impact mental health.