Workplace accommodation for people with mental illnesses is a real Catch-22.
Say you have an accident and lose a leg. You need to heal, be fitted with a prosthesis, go through rehabilitation and learn to walk again. Perhaps you’ll learn to use a wheelchair. Eventually, you’ll return to work – probably be welcomed back – and receive accommodations.
No questions asked. Everyone will bend over backwards to ensure you transition well into your new life, help you adapt to your new way of doing things and adjust to your new challenges.
Say you’re applying for a job. If you’re well qualified and in a wheelchair, why shouldn’t you have as good a shot as anyone else at landing that job?
But what happens if you have a mental health issue? If you’re good at what you do, well educated and trained, what do you do?
Announce in a job interview that you’ve had some emotional problems and may need some accommodation from time to time? Try that, and you’ll probably be shown the door before you have a chance to whip out your resume.
All colleges and universities offer students with any number of physical, developmental and emotional issues accommodations, but that simply doesn’t happen in “the real world.”
That’s wrong. Unfair. Unjust. Discriminatory.
You rarely hear the thousands of success stories about people thriving with their mental health issues because people simply don’t talk about them. They hide them. Pray nothing happens. Live with their secrets in fear.
How many CEOs drink excessively? How many managers white knuckle their way through a workday and fall apart at night?
It’s easier to hide a mental health issue than a prosthetic leg or a wheelchair, but no less important to ensure that talented, well-educated, creative people be given equal opportunities to contribute to society in any way they can. That means in the workplace.
This is the great Catch-22 employees must face.
You can’t receive appropriate accommodation unless your employer knows how you need to be accommodated. And how will they know if you don't tell them?
This is a human rights issue.
You should be able to be honest about a mental health issue without fear of never being hired. Or worse, being fired. And employers should be able to look beyond it. There are so many people with gambling, drinking and drug abuse problems who slip through the cracks because these addictions – and they are serious, dangerous mental health issues – are for some reason considered “acceptable.”
Why should a mood disorder, an anxiety problem or any mental illness that’s well controlled be less acceptable?
It's wrong. Unfair. Unjust. Discriminatory.
Someone who’s worked hard to recover and maximize their health – physical and mental – is a better bet in the workplace. Better equipped to cope, communicate, listen, empathize, work hard and be a great team player. If given a chance, loyal to the end.
Try telling that to an employer. Most of them see only potential problems. Never potential successes. The Toronto Sun hired me, knowing I had a mental illness, because they saw my potential and wanted to give me a chance. Now Seneca College has done the same thing.
I didn’t hide anything. Why should you have to if you’re applying for a job? Be honest and up front. Explain what you need to help you do the best job you can do. A good employer welcomes such information.
There is no question that a healthy workplace - mentally and physically - is a more profitable workplace.
Nobody's perfect. We’re all vulnerable. Life isn't a linear path. Things happen. There are bumps along the road. We all have problems, and we all deserve a chance to prove ourselves. To work hard and succeed.
Emotional and physical health issues should be treated equally in the workplace. Everywhere.
How can we make this happen? By opening our minds. Overcoming our own fears and ignorance. Educating ourselves. Throwing out the old stereotypes and myths about mental illnesses – and treating people as individuals. As human beings. With enormous potential.
And beautiful minds.