Mental Illness

Mental Illness: Confronting Stigma at Work

Mental Health 11In this day and age, we’d like to believe that those with mental illness experience the same opportunities for employment as everyone else in the workforce. Unfortunately, these beliefs are not always true. While we’ve certainly made great strides as a progressive society, according to Lisa Smusz who serves as the head of PEERS (Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services), a voluntary program shedding light on the stigma associated with mental illness – there is still a lot of progress to be made.

The irony is that many Americans will experience a mental health disorder within their lifetime, but it’s generally not something we like to discuss. Smusz points out that according to 2012 figures released by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 20 percent of Americans, or 46 million people, reported symptoms of a mental health disorder, regardless if they were officially diagnosed or not.

While individuals living with mental health conditions such as OCD, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety often want and need to work for recovery, they may be afraid to disclose such ailments to companies for fear of being labeled or rejected for employment. Numerous studies illustrate that there is a correlation between unemployment rates and mental illness among those with disabilities and that bosses are hesitant when it comes to embracing someone with past emotional health issues.

This just goes to show that society still holds polarized views of mental illness – many wanting to be supportive while secretly harboring certain judgments and fears, even though the majority of people with mental illness are peaceable and productive. Since federal law provides that companies make “reasonable accommodations” to meet special needs of the disabled, employers may avoid choosing applicants they believe have mental disorders to evade any potential conflicts.

Stigma in the workplace exists because people fail to understand the true nature of mental illness. While mental health disorders may be challenging, they are often manageable with appropriate treatment and attention. If you or someone you know is living with a mental health issue, Family Guidance Center can help to achieve employment and other long-term goals. Learn more at