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Overcoming Stigma in the Workplace

stop the stigma of mental illness

Individuals suffering with mental health disorders aspire to have a normal life.  They seek balance and happiness in their work, education and family life.  One of the greatest barriers to that normal aspiration is the stigma that makes it difficult for people living with mental illness to find acceptance within their communities and society as whole.

A variety of terms are used to describe a disruption of mental health: mental illness, emotional disturbance, nervous breakdown and burnout just to name a few.  Even hurtful terms such as crazy, psycho, maniac, loony or nuts are still commonly in use.  These terms do not give much information about what the person is actually experiencing.  A mental disorder or mental illness is a diagnosable condition that may affect a person’s ability to work and carry on other daily activities and engage in satisfying personal relationships.  But it does not mean that those areas of life should be forever closed to people living with mental illnesses.

The term mental health is tossed around freely in today’s society but many of us aren’t clear on what that truly means and how it can be relevant to someone’s life.  Most of us assume that mental illness is something that only affects other families or friends.  The truth is that mental health problems are more common than heart disease, lung disease, and cancer combined.

Former President Clinton said, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”  The facts of mental health recovery paint a much different picture than the stigma that exists today.  The employment of people with mental health conditions helps employers fill job openings and contribute to society through the return of paid taxes and Social Security and reduce the use of government health and disability benefits.   Employers who have hired individuals with mental illness report that their attendance and punctuality exceed the norm, and that their motivation, work quality, and job tenure is as good as or better than that of other employees.

Remember that 1 in 4 Americans suffers from some form of mental health disorder.  The stigma against people with mental illness begins to disappear when we actually spend time living and working with them in normal environments such as the workplace and school.

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