Getting Hired with a Mental Illness

The words anxiety and depression ring differently to some people. There is nothing wrong about that but it will always be a secret battle that many people fight every day. Regardless of the circumstances, people will experience pain. Some people choose to show it and some don’t. Is there something wrong with showing it when there is always someone with snap judgement? 

With today’s dynamics with entertainment, we are more emotionally invested than ever in strangers who appear in movies or YouTube videos. Many creators look for outlets to open up their emotions and this has normalized the concept of mental health. Additionally, they have opened up a conversation that few people were comfortable having before about the daily struggles and pain that many people have to bear. I can write a blog post about my problems with mental health and still be considered a functional part of society. Although, not inside the workplace. After so many years of exposure to disorders and debunking of myths, why is it that a company would rather hire someone with no history of mental health issues? If you have a mental illness, are you completely inadequate for today’s high-pressure work environment? 

We have to thank Twitter, YouTube, Talk Shows, and other platforms for creating a space for people from all backgrounds to open up about their mental health issues. Not only are there people talking about their stories with mental health but many public advocates are trying to promote the concept of taking care of your mental health just as much as your physical health. Celebrities like Dwayne Johnson, Katy Perry, and Kristen Bell have talked about their struggles with depression and similar problems. There are thousands of videos and Ted talks bringing light to a variety of mental disorders. 

The information is within reach and there are examples of people becoming successful while struggling with a mental illness. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson had to save his mother from committing suicide at the age of 15, grow up with depression, and still become the best-paid actor in Hollywood! Yet, the “invisible job barrier” still exists.

The New Zealand media website Stuff  wrote an article on the “Invisible job barrier: how mental illness makes it harder to get work”. You can read on the struggles that Richard Stephens had to go through to get a job. He had two degrees and experience in policy work, but his bipolar disorder and chronic anxiety kept him from getting a job for more than four years. Richard explained how he had to answer long questions regarding his mental health only to get a “phone call shortly after to say [he] wouldn’t fit in the office environment”. There it’s also mentioned how “29 percent of respondents agreed with the decision to hire a less experienced candidate who had no experience of mental illness, rather than someone who had more experience but had battled a mental illness.” Every country has their own perspective on mental health initiatives, and the numbers might look better or worse depending on where you are from. The case of Richard Stephens happened in New Zealand but the stigma exists globally.

Personally, I have seen how this plays out. I have struggled with depression and anxiety disorders for quite some time. While I was working in Philadelphia as an engineer in training, I was going through a tough time and I was not taking care of my mental health. None of my coworkers or superiors knew about my situation; at the time I was afraid to show any signs of a mental problem. While I was efficient, proactive, and collaborative, there were days where I became a liability. The lack of attention to my mental wellbeing became a problem in the workplace. It affected my punctuality, efficiency, and concentration to the point I flooded a sink.

Another personal example comes from the employment I had in Ecuador. This time I was open about having issues, even though I didn’t disclose them in their entirety. I talked about the situation I was going through with the illness of my mother and my mental health backstory. I was productive and hardworking, but the behavior from my bosses was still different. The company had to downsize personnel so I was laid off even when I was part of the sales department and switched to part-time. Was I disposable because of my situation? I am still left with the question but there is no easy answer.

The faultless yet unfeasible solution to this invisible wall would be to observe only the performance and efficiency of an employee before thinking of their background. It is a difficult characteristic to measure at face value because there is no method for predicting an employee’s behavior. There is no right or wrong answer because it is not a black or white problem. Situations are different for everyone based on culture, type of mental health problem, and requirements for the job. 

A study was done by Janki Shankar, and 8 other authors,  for Sage Publications where they interviewed employers of workers with mental illnesses. The study was done to observe what was their opinion on hiring people with mental health problems and what would cause them to change their opinion. There were workers who said that even after not being able to work with someone with mental health issues, they would still consider hiring someone and accommodating to be able to work while handling a mental health concern. Additionally, there were instances of employers having trouble with these types of workers even after accommodating them to be able to work properly. Some employees underperformed or caused problems which then meant they had to be terminated. There were still cases of these workers performing well and staying working with the company after review from their employers. It seems that there is no easy way out of the stigma but employers are realizing that there should not be an issue in the workplace if the person is able to adjust properly. So the question still stands. Is it a good idea to disclose your mental health problems considering the hindrance that it might be?

Change is slow but it doesn’t stop. There are more things to learn about coping mechanisms, workplace accommodations, and proper examples of boss-employee dynamics with workers with mental health problems. While, as a whole, we are becoming more aware of these types of problems that every person suffering from various forms of disorders, there is also the growing concern that things have been unfair for quite some time now. 

There shouldn’t be people encouraging workers to stay in the position that they are in if they are underperforming because of a mental health situation. On the other hand, there shouldn’t exist a stigma to restrain workers from using our abilities on all the areas that would benefit from more people with specific abilities. Overall, the workplace will be a constant battle for mental well-being and some people might struggle more than others but it is our right to do something with the abilities, knowledge, and experience we were given. Sharing our story might bring about a change in perspective, but that has to be a personal decision; to bear the risk of others judging while becoming part of a more just, more open world.

Links: 

https://www.webmd.com/depression/ss/slideshow-depression-celebs

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/better-business/70971792/invisible-job-barrier-how-mental-illness-makes-it-harder-to-get-work#:~:text=A%20new%20survey%2C%20conducted%20by,they%20had%20a%20mental%20illness.

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244014547880

https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/

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