Magazine article USA TODAY

Stigma Creates Employment Barriers

Magazine article USA TODAY

Stigma Creates Employment Barriers

Article excerpt

One in three individuals with severe mental illness has been turned down for a job for which he or he was qualified because of a psychiatric label, according to a study by the National Alliance for the Mentally III (NAMI). It represents the experiences of 1,300 individuals diagnosed with biologically based brain disorders, including schizophrenia, manic-depression, and major depression.

"The study results confirm our worst fears," say Lauri M. Flynn, NAMI executive director. "The stigma of severe mental illness is preventing capable individuals from fulfilling their potential. In many cases, the rejection and discrimination [are] far more painful than the illness." Seven out of 10 respondents said they have been treated as less competent by others when their illness became known. For example: "When I was first diagnosed, I made the mistake of telling my supervisor at the time what was going on: She decided I couldn't handle a job I'd been doing for 10 years and demoted me."

Another stated that "I applied for employment at a well-known national engineering company and received a job offering with the condition that I bring a work release from my doctor. (The company knew that I had not been working due to an illness.) When I gave them the note stating that I was mentally ill but could now work, they discovered they could no longer afford to hire me."

The study, conducted by Otto Wahl of George Mason University. Fairfax, Va., underscores the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to provide clarity and muscle to the employment provisions of the ADA as they apply to employers and individuals with severe mental illnesses. These will enable EEOC field workers to resolve cases better involving persons with such disorders. In addition, the regulations will help employers, many of whom have been uncertain about what they can and can not do under the ADA.

"This study shows that, in addition to many other challenges, individuals with severe mental illness are stigmatized and face discrimination in the workplace," Flynn points out. "The EOC's guidance does not create a system of preferential treatment or ease Performance standards. It merely helps ensure that the stigma surrounding mental illness does not, in itself, create a hostile work environment."

Employment is a very important element of recovery for those with serious mental illness. …

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