Mind & Body

Re-Framing Mental Illness & Its Effect On Job Prospects And Dating

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If you are unemployed like 6.1 million other Americans and are currently on the all-consuming job hunt, then you probably know the job application drill like the back of your hand. It includes a resume, cover letter, veteran status, U.S citizenship status, and last but not least– a disability disclosure. Every time I see the listed bullet points under “disabilities,” they blare at me like a shabby motel neon sign. Besides for the physical impairments stacked on top of one another like cards in a deck, there’s a Rolodex of mental illnesses categorized for all to choose from. However, behind those chalky medical terms, what these companies are really asking is the following: “Are you functional enough to perform the job at hand?”

I freeze when I see OCD and Anxiety Disorder mentioned, but I carry on to the next portion without ticking off any boxes because A: I’m high functioning and B: I fear it could potentially prevent me from getting the job. Can mental illnesses affect desirability in the workplace? And what is the legality anyways of asking someone if they have a physical or mental illness?

According to leading practices in disability services, an employer must provide an equal opportunity for an individual with a disability to participate in the job application process and to be considered for a job. The hiring manager may even ask questions about a potential employee’s ability to perform specific job functions. To be perfectly clear, it’s against the law for an employer not to hire someone based off of their answers on disability, gender, ethnicity, and so on. Companies with more advanced Human Resource departments may provide standing desks, exercise ball chairs, and back and footrests for those who request them. Additionally, Equal Opportunity Employers collect this information to show the government that they’re at least attempting to hire a less homogenous workforce. But let’s get real. If one were to disclose their disability, whether mental or physical, would it hurt their probability of getting the job? According to the National Alliance On Mental Illness, yes. It’s the same way a woman who’s pregnant over a woman with no children or a man, may feel like their pregnancy inhibits their job prospects. Sure, there might be concerns about the frequency of missed work due to a mental illness, but how is that any different from someone who frequently takes off of work because they are prone to the common cold when the seasons change?

As much as we try to sugarcoat or overlook it, disability is conflated with desirability in the workplace as much as it is in one’s personal life. When Pete Davidson came out last year about his struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, his fans were skeptical of his relationship with Ariana Grande — even going so far to deem it a recipe for disaster. He was rightfully quick to quell their assumptions about loving someone with a mental illness. “Just because someone has a mental illness does not mean they can’t be happy and in a relationship. It also doesn’t mean that person makes the relationship toxic. Everybody is different and there are a lot of treatments for mental illnesses and I have done/am doing all of them,” he wrote on his Instagram story earlier last year. Of course, this is not to say you should enter a relationship with someone if their mental illness plays a determinant role in the functionality of your relationship. Everything, of course, varies between a particular case and the severity of a disorder. But not to hire a person or enter a relationship with someone based on their mental illness (or ‘disability,’ in the words of a job application) is a stigma as old as time.

“I’ve lied on every job application about the disability question. I do have depression but only because I don’t have a goddamn job yet,” wrote someone anonymously on Whisper. Even though a steady flow of income and being in a relationship can significantly decrease one’s mental illness symptoms, people aren’t quick to offer up this information out of fear of being less desirable. “My mom told me to wait till at least the 5th date to mention that I’m on Zoloft,” one friend confided. But the National Alliance on Mental Illness disagrees entirely. “A supportive partner… feel[s] closer to the person after they learn of their mental illness … it can be an opportunity to grow together through the disclosure,” they stated.

According to a 2016 Jama International Medicine study, at least one in six adults take a psychiatric drug. So if 40 million Americans are on medicine, we clearly need to change what it means to be desirable. Here are some ideas: An employee that has OCD and always gets his work in on time. A boss that has depression and still trudges through the day and greets his co-workers with a warm smile. A boyfriend who has Tourettes and is an amazing kisser. A girlfriend with Bipolar Disorder that will make you laugh until you cry. All of these people have come into my life and they’re nothing short of extraordinary. They’re not undesirable, they truly put the sexy back in mental health.