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Fighting Mental Illness Stigmas

Fighting Mental Illness Stigmas
1 in 4 American adults are living with a diagnosable, treatable mental condition.

May is Mental Health awareness month, which makes this the perfect month to focus our Sensitivity Training series on mental health in the workplace. Today, mental illness stigmas are more rampant than ever. In his article “Mental Illness, Stigma, and the Person in the Office Next Door,” Professor James T. r. Jones writes about how he hid his diagnosis of bipolar disorder for over 28 years. He states that people today stigmatize mental illnesses more than they did 50 years ago. That “job applicants hide hospitalizations or gaps in employment due to mental illness, because they fear disclosure will keep them from being hired. Families of those with mental illness,” he continues, “are so embarrassed that they are afraid to acknowledge the condition to their loved ones.”

In the workplace, it’s important to establish tolerance and acceptance for mental illnesses. As with most stigmas and stereotypes, intolerance is generated out of ignorance and spread through language. “Words have power. They have the power to teach, the power to wound, the power to shape the way people think, feel, and act toward others.” O. F. Wahl explained in his paper People First language Matters. “When a stigmatized group of people, such as those with mental illnesses, is struggling for increased understanding and acceptance, attention to the language used in talking and writing about them is particularly important.”

When a stigmatized group of people, such as those with mental illnesses, is struggling for increased understanding and acceptance, attention to the language used in talking and writing about them is particularly important.”

Employer and supervisor attitudes are integral to developing a tolerant work environment. Expressing a disbelief in mental illness and the practice of psychiatry can be just as harmful as discriminatory words and remarks. Employees need to feel comfortable to approach their supervisors to get the help they need.

People with mental illnesses may be eligible for reasonable workplace accommodations, such as flexible hours, advocacy and third-party support groups. However, many employees or potential employees feel uncomfortable divulging their mental illness to their employer, which they would need to do in order to request these accommodations, fearing it could result in dismissal or hurt their chances for career advancement.

Many people suffering from depression and mental illness report that the stigma of being branded as mentally ill is worse than the illness itself,” 

“Many people suffering from depression and mental illness report that the stigma of being branded as mentally ill is worse than the illness itself,” Edwin C. Mercurio explains. “People are known to be less willing to offer support and empathy if someone is known to be suffering from a mental illness rather than those who are having physical health problems.”