How to Handle Mental Health Issues in the Hiring Process

By Vira Trevino-Garcia

Although the latest statistics say at least one in six U.S. adults live with mental illness, it remains the biggest gray area in recruitment. Those numbers do not even include the impact the COVID pandemic has taken on our mental health. And yet unfortunately, even as we make great strides toward tolerance and diversity, mental health in the hiring process continues to be the area that recruiters and hiring managers know the least about. Mental health disorders are not easily identifiable during an interview, and because of the stigma associated, most candidates are not willing to discuss this. Imagine what you would say if a candidate asked you “How would you react if I told you I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder?” during an interview. As a hiring manager or recruiter, do you feel prepared to address that?

In order to be sensitive to what may be a complex situation, you must reserve judgement and focus on the candidate’s achievements and positive traits. If the candidate decides to open up about their illness, have a candid conversation about what you would expect as an employer within the framework of the job description, and allow them to express their thoughts on the role. Do not make any assumptions or question their ability to handle the role.

If a situation does arise that brings a candidate or current employee’s mental health into focus, employers should be prepared to respond with diligence and care. Having an awareness and understanding that it is not a weakness goes a long way toward building a welcoming and inclusive culture. Leadership teams should also be open about their own personal stories of mental health challenges. Testimonials like that will help candidates and employees feel confident they will be supported. Evaluate your company’s mental wellness support and share information about those programs with candidates, always ensuring there is somewhere that employees can communicate confidentially with them about mental health.

The negative stigma attached to mental health remains a significant challenge, and the subject of mental health awareness should be included in company trainings. Creating a culture of wellness as a priority will help to attract and retain candidates who are looking for a caring, supportive organization where employees feel empowered to discuss who they are.