You think coming out of the closet is tough? Try coming out of the padded closet. Since an admission of having been treated for mental illness renders one virtually unemployable, it effectively silences most.
Women feel comfortable sharing every gory detail of their labor and delivery experience, yet you won’t hear them standing in line for the potluck chatting about visits to the psych ward, the merits of cognitive behavioral therapy, or springtime mania.
But there’s hope. The editor of Women’s Health disclosed her OCD diagnosis in their May 2016 issue. The issue profiles women who have been treated for mental illness, “Whether we have OCD or anxiety or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, all of us share one common challenge: stigma. It shrouds mental illness, leaving patients to suffer alone and in silence, fearful of repercussions.”
Coping successfully with schizophrenia
The subhead of this 2015 Women’s Health profile of Rachel Star Withers, a 30-year-old successfully coping with schizophrenia, reads, “I’m hallucinating to some degree 90 percent of the time.”
Withers’ journey to the independent life she lives today involved a lot of trial and error as well as plenty of courage. She developed enough confidence to make a career out of various part-time jobs such as working behind and in front of the camera for cable television shows and teaching acting. In the article, she admits, “I get really edgy if I have to sit at a desk for 40 hours a week.”
Society loses out
Not using an integrative approach for treating mental illness borders on malpractice, because there are so many individuals struggling with mental illness and on disability who could work. Work not only provides independence via self-sufficiency, but also is therapeutic as it engages the mind.
Flawed disability system
The all-or-nothing way disability is structured needs to change. There are many people on disability diagnosed with mental illness who cannot commute, work 40 to 60 hours every week, or work in high-stress environments, but they could work part-time or close to full-time. There should be a formula that lets them replace part or most of their disability with wages (beyond the current token amount), but still stay in the system, because those with chronic illness have times in which they cannot work, which can last for weeks, so that they can get back to equilibrium.
Exercise is one simple accommodation that has been proven to be the most effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. It is given lip service, but not seriously prescribed or monitored. Exercise is biochemistry. Strength training benefits the brain in certain ways and aerobic exercise benefits it in other ways.
Addiction, including codependency, often accompanies depression and bipolar disorder, yet often it is not addressed or treated. PTSD, learning disabilities, nutritional deficiencies, and vocational challenges can all play a part too, yet pharmaceuticals are expected to fix everything.
With mental illness, part of the problem is cultural. In addition to its stigma, which compromises treatment and career options, our culture celebrates sleep deprivation and endless work hours rather than productivity, and promotes obesity and daily habits that do not contribute to mental health. Try walking a block without encountering a Frappuccino, frozen yogurt, or French fries. There’s candy for sale at the checkout in the hardware store, clothing store, and even sporting good store.
Campaign to fight mental health stigma
Clinical psychologist Lisa Aguilar Slover has undertaken a publicity project, I Am the Face of Mental Illness, that aims to “greatly decrease the stigma attached to having a mental illness.” Quoting from her website:
I hope for a day that someone can say, “I’m sorry, I can’t come into work today, I just had a major panic attack and now I just need to sleep,” in the same way that someone can call and say, “I’m sorry, I’m having a severe migraine and cannot come into work today.”