If you have ever suffered from a long-term, short-term, or sudden psychological ailment, it is highly likely you are no stranger to facing discrimination in the workplace. When an employer inquires about your health, the right to disclose your condition (or not) is yours alone. Certainly, there are pros and cons to both scenarios. However, there remains a stark contrast between what should be, and the hard reality we all may come to face at least once in our lifetime.
Should you choose to disclose your mental health condition to a potential employer, you alleviate the stress of having to force an acceptable level of functioning, explain away any oddities, or any brief dishonesty that may come along with it. Likewise, you open a pathway for meaningful dialogue that may produce credibility and longevity in your role. This can also contribute to reducing stigma and assumptions surrounding other-abled populations. However, should you choose to withhold this information, you may have the luxury of a avoiding a harsh and unkind response, up to and including termination. Despite the fact that discrimination is perfectly illegal, and companies have incentivized job seekers by offering promises of integration and acceptance (these are the optional disability, gender, ethnicity, and veteran status check boxes you see on many job applications), many employees still experience intolerance when disclosing their mental illness. One may also experience the sensation of being squeezed out of a position through means of indirect but excessive discomfort at the hands of an employer.
While the globe continues her awareness campaigns and demand marches, truly altering a societal mindset takes decades and must be a slow gentle progression. No one likes to be force-fed a brand new belief system. In the meantime, many of us with mental health conditions in the workplace continue to suffer either in silence, unapologetic ignorance, or abuse. Other than the obvious subjective nature of cognitive impairments, I believe the greatest misconceptions related to mental illness are understanding limitations and age.
So many people find mood disorders, stress disorders, anxiety and psychosis to be an excuse due to the fact that there will be periods of symptom dormancy. That is, some days are better than others and even when the hard days completely meet the criteria for disability, countless people ground their skepticism in periods of normalcy.
This is a mistake.
The reason conditions such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are qualifiers for supplemental support is due to their nature of general unpredictability. That is, turbulent mood swings, inexplicable crying spells, delusional paranoia, and terrifying psychosis paired with the extreme psychological and physical (yes, I said “physical”) suffering of the patient. Second to that, if someone is 28 years old than surely they should be in the prime cognitive and physical condition of their life, right? (Insert insensitive ignorant remark here.) This simply does not apply to mental illness because, as true irony would have it, clinical diagnosis does not discriminate. This sudden shift in social display and dramatic disruption to conventional performance given one’s age and the presence of an invisible illness is what makes some people unreliable employees, and yet, employers often become enraged and confused by these shortcomings.
In my personal experience, I have traveled both the path of disclosure and non-disclosure. I will tell you I prefer the truth for two reasons.
1.) Any relationship, employment or otherwise, that begins at the seat of omission will certainly create more stress and will almost always result in a complete disintegration of the opportunity altogether.
2.) If I am going to thrive and be successful in any role, I will do so as my genuine self and nothing less. I will be accommodated (or dismissed).
I will not apologize for my trembling hands or the fact that I forgot everything you just said to me the moment you finished (if I even heard it at all). I will not be the subject of ridicule or shame due to another person’s inability or unwillingness to accept my condition due to the very obligation a self-proclaimed integrated society affords me.
Perhaps most heartbreaking, discrimination exists even from within the national programs designed to protect these populations.
You must demonstrate your limitations to the court, but not so to fall into a trick question or diminish your credibility.
You must show that you can care for your children in a legally competent and unharmful manner, as well as the inability to find or keep a job.
You must collect and produce your medical history in a way that is substantial enough to satisfy the definitions, but also maintain a respectable level of care for yourself to show that you are actively engaged in self-help.
You must work limited hours in a skilless role or not at all, and demonstrate multiple failed attempts to work.
While unable to provide an income for yourself, you must wait anywhere from 3 months to 2 years (or more) to receive your acceptance (or denial) letter.
In the event of an appeal, you must produce a lawyer to promote your credibility as a witness and help the judge weed out those milking the system.
It is a long arduous journey to receive the benefits promoting social security even though many of us have paid in ten years or more before becoming disabled, and even when we actively demonstrate limited assets, resources, and a considerably compromised quality of life.
Whether we face mental health discrimination from an employer, a friend or family member, or the state- it does not come without vital consequence, including the influx of resource utilization that occurs by failing to properly support those with major progressive and degenerative illness.
So, when we can’t win at home or at work, how do we keep from falling through the cracks?
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**
For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!
In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!