What is Discrimination?
What is Bias Crime?
Who can you contact?
What can you do?
Members of the MHRC
Mental Health and Civil Rights
People with mental illnesses are often stigmatized and sometimes shunned
by their communities. They sometimes face discrimination at work, in
housing, or in public services, all of which may present obstacles to
their recovery and may violate their civil rights.
Mental health conditions that pose challenges for Minnesotans include
alcohol or chemical dependency, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder,
anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as
well as developmental disabilities and mental retardation.
Persons with mental disabilities are protected under both the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. For
example, an employer with 15 or more employees must make a "reasonable
accommodation" for a person with a mental disability. A "reasonable
accommodation" may include adjusting working conditions or allowing an
employee time off for treatment or recovery.
Any harassment of an employee with a psychiatric disability by other
workers or supervisors must be promptly addressed by the employer. The
fears of coworkers are not a justification for discrimination -- a person
cannot be discriminated against simply because a coworker is afraid of, or
uncomfortable with, that person's disability. State and federal civil
rights laws also apply to public services and public accommodations.
Defining who is "disabled" under these laws is complex and sometimes
requires a court to decide. The ADA recognizes as "disabled" a person who
has physical or mental impairments that have "substantially limited" their
"major life activity." However, the ADA definition of disabled might not
apply if the person's impairment can be corrected through
medication. State law is slightly different. The Minnesota Human Rights
Act states that a person's life need only be "materially" limited, rather
than "substantially" limited.
Many people with mental health conditions argue that current federal law
is discriminatory because it does not require health insurance to cover
mental illnesses in the same way that insurance covers other types of
illnesses. Congress is currently working on "mental health
parity" legislation that would broaden the range and degree of mental
health services that are covered by health insurance. Mental health
parity has widespread public support and was endorsed by President Bush in
Fortunately, society is becoming more pro-active in accepting and
understanding mental health conditions. For example, many police officers
and other law enforcement personnel now receive special training to
recognize and appropriately interact with persons with mental illnesses,
and to ensure that their civil rights are protected.
Children in public schools also fall under the protection of the ADA and
the state Human Rights Act. Children and adolescents often cope with
grief, depression, anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, inability
to control anger, and fear of exposure to violence or bullying. Public
schools are required to make reasonable accommodations for children with
mental health disabilities, just as employers and public agencies are.
Several groups in Morris provide support for people with mental health
conditions and their families. These include the Minnesota
Depressive-Manic Depressive Association support group, the Behavioral
Medicine Department at Stevens Community Medical Center, Prairie
Counseling Center, Prairie Community Services, and the Stevens County
Local Advisory Council on mental health issues. Catholic Charities,
Lutheran Social Services, Stevens County Human Services, and various
chemical dependency groups can also offer assistance. Questions about
mental illness and discrimination may be directed to the Minnesota
Department of Human Rights at 800-657-3704.
The Morris Human Rights Commission was established by the Morris City
Council in 1997 to promote and encourage equal opportunity and fair
treatment of all individuals. The Commission fosters those values that
create an inclusive community that appreciates diversity and protects the
rights of all people. The Commission holds regular monthly meetings that
are open to the public. For more information, contact the Morris City