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Myths around mental illness cause high rates of unemployment

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

Even though mental illness affects one in five adults – and depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide – secrecy and stigma around the issue continue.


The problem is especially acute in the workplace. While individuals with mental illness often wish to work and are able to, their unemployment rates remain three to four times those of individuals without mental illness.


I’m an expert on mental health, and I have found that to dispel stigmas surrounding mental health in the workplace, researchers like me need first to tackle several myths.


1. Everyone has different abilities


Let us examine the first myth: that mental illness makes one less able to do a job.


Mental disorder does not interfere with all capacities, and can sometimes improve others. One study shows that almost half of U.S. presidents suffered from some kind of mental disorder. Some have performed the most challenging tasks in history.


For example, Abraham Lincoln’s severe depression is said to have made him more compassionate, while Theodore Roosevelt’s hypomanic moods made him an exuberant and influential personality.


There is plenty of evidence that, given the right supports, people with mental illness can be successful at work. Conversely, individuals do not have to have a mental illness to lack the mental capacity to do a job.


2. Mental versus physical illness


The second myth is that mental illness is associated with moral failing, unlike physical illness.


In our own lifetimes, we may remember the stigma and secrecy that surrounded cancer and AIDS. Scientific research and education helped these prejudices give way to understanding.


The more we know, the more we understand that mental disorders are not moral failings or subjective complaints that people can simply “snap out” of, but are serious, debilitating and deadly medical conditions like any other.


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