If someone at a job interview explains a two year gap in their resume by mentioning chemotherapy, they will likely be heralded as a survivor and their chances at the job typically would not be affected. But if the same person, with the exact same qualifications and manner of interacting explains a gap and mentions a psychiatric hospitalization, things may be a little different.
The Disconnect Between Physical and Mental Health
I spoke at a mental health awareness event this past weekend and this was a common theme of the discussion. Physical illness and mental illness are quite simply viewed as entirely separate entities when it comes to the work force.
If you don’t think this is true, ask yourself which you would feel more comfortable calling in sick for: a bout of the flu, or a bout of depression?
As another speaker, Hilary Packard, pointed out, it is because there is a general societal view that once you were declared mentally ill, that you will always, to some degree, still be mentally ill. And that is the root cause of this stigma that undoubtedly causes thousands of cases of discrimination on a daily basis.
The Myth That Binds the Stigma
When someone’s cancer is in remission, they are not still viewed as someone battling cancer. But when someone’s symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression are in remission, they may still be viewed as unstable, weak or prone to erratic behaviour.
This myth, that people don’t fully recover from mental illness, stands at the forefront of employment discrimination. In order to combat this, we need more examples of everyday people standing up and showing the world that they have battled, and won, against mental illness.
We need people who are quietly working away in their office hoping no one will ever find out that they were once ‘mentally ill’ to stand up and be proud of the fact that they conquered mental illness.
Calling All Warriors
The more that employers start seeing mental illness as a treatable condition, the less power this stigma will have. And the best way to do that is to take that initial step and mention mental illness in the office. The eradication of stigma will only come from brave warriors who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and publicly acknowledge who they were, who they are now and who they are going to be.