Reprinted from the "Workplace" issue of Visions Journal, 2014, 9 (3), p. 4
About once a year Visions gets a request from a past contributor of a personal experience to change their byline to a fake name. Not surprisingly, the reason always given: worry that a current or future employer googling their name and finding the article will discover they have a mental illness or addiction and discriminate against them.
While we know discrimination on the grounds of health status or disability is illegal, we probably also know that the reason many employers dig around or make assumptions is to try and make predictions about the future and to manage risk. Never mind that a history of mental illness on its own doesn’t really tell you much; that person can be an excellent, mediocre or bad employee just like anyone else. But one of the greatest fears about mental illness is its unpredictability. And so people go to great lengths to hide their diagnoses. And the sad truth is that for every employer that has used the recruitment process to screen out deserving candidates who may have faced a mental health challenge, there are just as many applicants with lived experience who interview less confidently for fear of potential discrimination even from fair employers.
The other sad truth is that for any employee a mentally unhealthy work environment can trigger mental health problems—not just the diagnosable kind, though that can happen too. In fact, researchers have found that someone without mental illness but with poor mental health is as common and shows as much impairment as a person with major depression.1 In other words, poor mental health is as dangerous to an organization as depression. And workplaces, given the time and identity we attach to them, have a huge influence on mental health. As you read this issue, I hope you think more about the environments that influence every worker’s well-being and potential. After all, to borrow a metaphor from our friends at UVic, if we find a pond where the frogs aren’t thriving, do we start by blaming or even treating them? No, our first reaction would be to wonder what is wrong with the pond.2
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division
- Keyes, C.L.M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(2), 207-222.
- Centre for Addictions Research of BC. (2013). Understanding substance use: A health promotion perspective. www.heretohelp.bc.ca/factsheet/understanding-substance-use-a-health-promotion-perspective