Breaking the Silence

Website for the American Mental Health Counselors Association's Breaking the Silence initiative to address mental health stigma.


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Five Myths About Mental Illness and the Workplace

If you’ve held a job or two, you’ve probably worked with someone who had a mental illness. Surprised? Here are some major myths—and facts—about the impact of mental illness on the workplace.

Myth 1: Mental illness is the same as mental retardation.

Facts: Mental illness and intellectual disability are two distinct disorders. A diagnosis of intellectual disability is chiefly characterized by limitation in intellectual functioning as well as difficulties with certain daily living skills. In contrast, among those with psychiatric disabilities, intellectual functioning varies, just as it does across the general population.

 

Myth 2: Recovery from mental illness is not possible.

Facts: Long-term studies have shown that the majority of people with mental illnesses show genuine improvement over time and lead stable, productive lives.

For many decades, mental illness was thought to be permanent and untreatable.

People with mental illness were separated from the rest of society through institutionalization in mental hospitals. As medications and behavioral treatments were discovered that helped alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, there was a gradual evolution towards providing treatment and rehabilitation services in the community.

 

Myth 3: Individuals with a mental illness or those who have achieved recovery tend to be second-rate workers.

Facts: Employers who have hired individuals with a current or past mental illness report that they are higher than average in attendance and punctuality, and as good as or better than other employees in motivation, quality of work, and job tenure. Studies reported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill have concluded that there are no differences in productivity when those with a current or past mental illness are compared with other employees.

 

Myth 4: People with mental illness and disability cannot tolerate stress on the job.

Facts: This oversimplifies the complex human response to stress. People with a variety of medical conditions—including cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, and psychiatric disorders—may find their symptoms exacerbated by high levels of stress. However, the source of personal and job-related stress varies substantially among individuals. Some people find an unstructured schedule very stressful while others struggle with a regimented workflow. Some people thrive on public visibility and a high level of social contact, while others require minimal interaction in order to focus and complete tasks.

Likewise, people with psychiatric disabilities vary in their response to stressors on the job. In essence, all jobs are stressful to some extent. Productivity is maximized when there is a good match between each employee’s needs and working conditions, whether or not an individual has a psychiatric disability.

 

Myth 5: People with a mental illness are unpredictable, violent, and dangerous.

Facts: The vast majority of people with a mental illness are not dangerous or violent. In fact, research published in the February 2015 American Journal of Public Health shows the mentally ill are much more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violence.

This myth that mentally ill people are inherently violent is reinforced by portrayals in the media of people with mental illnesses as frequently and randomly violent. When an employer learns that a job applicant has a mental illness, some employers may unfairly expect the individual to become violent.

Scholarly reviews of the research indicate that none of the data support the sensationalized caricature of the mentally disordered served up by the popular media.

Although stigma and shame are still the dominant attitudes towards mental health and mental illness, a dramatic shift in perception has taken place during the last 10 years. Advancement and improvements in the legal system have had a positive impact on attitudes and knowledge relating to all disabilities and to mental illness in particular.

This, in turn, has created a greater openness towards all mental health issues. Additional contributing factors include public and professional awareness that prolonged hospital stays can be disabling, advances in pharmacology, and a shift in focus from pathologizing differences to playing to individuals’ strengths and abilities.

More importantly, a variety of service models have been developed and implemented over the past decade that have been successful in helping people with depression and other mental illnesses secure and maintain employment.


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Recognizing Common Mental Health Problems in the Workplace

By contributing blogger Joel E. Miller

Here’s a brief guide to the most common mental health problems in the workplace, and how they affect both employees and employers.

Symptoms of these common problems—depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety—are all described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). But symptoms tend to manifest differently at work than they do at home or in other settings.

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Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace Is Imperative for Healthier—and More Productive—Employees

By contributing blogger Joel E. Miller

Five of the 10 leading causes of disability are mental health problems: major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, alcohol use, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. These disorders—together with anxiety, depression, and stress—have a debilitating impact in the workplace and need to be addressed.

Unfortunately, even though numerous affordable interventions exist, mental health and the stigma that those with mental health disorders still endure are given a low priority in the modern workplace.

Clinical mental health counselors (CMHCs) can play a critically important role in helping companies’ address their needs to make mental health treatment available to employees.

Savvy employers recognize that mental disabilities represent more than a health care issue. Employee performance, rates of illness, absenteeism, accidents, and staff turnover are all affected by employees’ mental health. In the United States, estimates for national spending on depression alone is nearly $40 billion, with an estimated 220 million days lost from work each year.

The impact of mental health problems in the workplace has serious consequences, not only for individuals struggling with mental health issues, but also for the productivity of the enterprise.

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The NRA’s New Clothes

By contributing blogger Dr. LaMarr Edgerson

Once up a time there was a narcissistic king who ruled over countless subjects. One day two swindlers convinced him they could tailor new clothes so magnificent that only loyal subjects could see them. As the king strutted through the town wearing his new clothes his subjects were impressed – all except one brave boy who yelled, “He’s naked!” Afterwards, others opened their eyes and the truth became known. I’m sure you’re familiar with this famed children’s story.

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Orlando Survivors: You Are Not Crazy

By contributing blogger Dr. LaMarr Edgerson

Citizens of Orlando my heart goes out to you. As a proud member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) I’ve visited your city during one of our annual conferences and found it to be very beautiful. While in the process of recovery from your tragedy I sincerely hope a few words in this blog will help with your healing. My name is Dr. LaMarr D. Edgerson and I am a clinical mental health counselor. My specialty is post-traumatic stress.

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My Grandfather

By contributing blogger Dr. LaMarr Edgerson

During this month, as we celebrate Father’s Day, I think of my grandfather. He was the primary father figure in my life as I grew up. My grandpa was the strongest man I’ve ever known. He served as an Army enlisted man during World War II and somehow made it through the entire conflict without a scratch. After discharging he moved his wife and five children from the South to the North, then took a blue-collar job for the Chrysler Corp until he was of age to retire. Being approximately 6’3, at least 225 pounds, hard as nails and with an overbearing personality, my grandfather could be a very intimidating figure. When he spoke we listened and that was the end of the discussion. It was he who stressed education the most to all of us.

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Seeds of Hatred in Orlando

By contributing blogger Dr. LaMarr Edgerson

All forms of life begin as a seed. Even the mightiest of oak trees took root from a small seed. Nourishment from water and sunlight allowed it to grow to magnificent heights providing us with oxygen, shade, absorption of carbon dioxide, and even a habitat for numerous species. Hatred also begins as a seed. When nourished in ways such as insecurity, paranoia, blame, fear, ignorance… it can erupt into a fit of uncontrollable anger. One such explosion of hatred and bigotry occurred this past Sunday in Orlando, Florida as innocent people seeking nothing more than a night out on the town were left traumatized, injured, and killed.

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