The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established on July 2nd, 1965, specifying multiple laws that protect United States citizens from being discriminated against while on the job hunt. These laws prevent discrimination against race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information, or age. Despite this act being in place for 53 years now, people with mental health issues continue to grapple with employment opportunities.
Hafal, a mental health charity, stated that only 8% of people with schizophrenia have been able to seek employment while 90% can only hope to one day attain a fulfilling job. It almost seems as if once an organization learns that a potential employee has schizophrenia, the possibility of being hired is out of reach.
Ms. Davies, a mother of four from Wales and also a person with schizophrenia, says that she would love part of the working world. However, accomplishing something so simple is not as easy as it sounds. There are many hurdles, one of them being that employers question the chance of an episode occurring again at random. She truly believes that the general public associates fear with schizophrenia to a much larger extent than they would with depression and anxiety. Davies also says that the media plays no positive role in destigmatizing schizophrenia. In fact, it has the opposite effect, especially when movies and television shows typically portray characters with schizophrenia as “psychotic killers” or only take into account the grim symptoms one goes through when not taking their medication.
According to an article in the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology journal, the employment rate in schizophrenia has decreased over the last 50 years in the United Kingdom. This is primarily because of the stigma revolving mental illness and discrimination. The study also sheds light on alleviated symptoms level, increased social functioning, and quality of life. Employment doesn’t hamper a person with schizophrenia, instead, it seems to positively affect their mental health.
Bernadette McSherry, Foundation Director of the Melbourne Social Equity Institute at the University of Melbourne, states that it is utterly up to the potential employee to disclose their disability. Disclosing one’s disability is a weighted decision and factors in many pros and cons. A few of the pros include being able to gain support and educating others on mental health, which could help with destigmatization. On the other hand, the person risks being discriminated against in the workplace, or not being hired at all, despite the fact that the Fair Work Act 2009 states, “An employer must not take adverse action against a person who is an employee, or prospective employee, of the employer because of the person’s… mental disability.” A decision like this seems like a double-edged sword, but one that must be eventually made to gain self-happiness.
Why might this stigma occur? A major influence is the media. Portraying people with schizophrenia as the criminal or the villain, when in reality, this is not the case. We can prevent the stigma by discussing it openly and educating people. There is no need for discrimination in the workplace and maybe, with the help from the community, we can work towards destigmatizing not only schizophrenia but other mental illnesses as well.
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