ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Some Discrimination and Misunderstanding

By Jack Bragen
Friday June 22, 2012 - 01:14:00 PM

Persons with mental illness are a very misunderstood category of people. From our perspective, the perspective of the person with mental illness trying to live in society, it seems like many of those who are successful people behave toward us as though we were lepers. Even among those who have more understanding, there is always that subtle bit in which we are not being treated as equals or as intelligent, aware people, which many of us are. 

On the "less understanding" end of the scale, you have people who expect us to be assaultive at any moment. Being afraid of a category of people fosters disdain and not understanding. I was called "an animal" by someone who worked in a psychiatric ward, possibly a social worker or an attorney, whose job was to help persons with mental illness. I was called, "sick." Another person, in front of a mental health clinic, came up and said, "I'll let you know when I need someone to empty my garbage." The person said he could tell that I was "a Prozac." 

It is easy to say nasty things like that to someone who has just recently experienced a psychotic episode and who is thus without a lot of defenses, or to insult someone in front of the perceived safety of a surveillance camera. 

When someone discloses their psychiatric condition, it can make them not hirable at most positions. It is probably in the hiring market where many people's prejudice becomes apparent. Most people probably think schizophrenic people are just fine, so long as they don't have to deal with them personally (or as someone who can affect their bread and butter such as in a business). "PC-ism" gets tossed when someone believes their wallet will be affected. 

I worked for a restaurant wholesaler as a delivery person for a short time. When I called in sick, and then I apologized for it and said that I should have gotten more rest in the first place, my manager spread the concern that I was going to drive off in the company van, and go somewhere with it. The van keys were taken from me. They were under the mistaken impression that I still worked for them when they phoned me for more work, and that was when I informed them that I was no longer working for them. 

On the other side of the coin, I have also worked several places where my psychiatric disorder was not considered a problem. Some of those work situations worked out just fine. And, I assume that should I wish to become self-employed again, I could do so with a fictitious name rather than by using my own name. Our government is not allowed to discriminate against me for having a disability, in most matters-and this includes most types of licensing. Our government would not allow me to become a peace officer, join the army, or work for the secret service. However, there is no law that I couldn't run for public office. (I just wouldn't get any votes.) 

As a person who must live with a schizophrenic disability, I have encountered some prejudice and some equality. I am lucky that I live in a democracy like the US which is a place where most of my freedoms are intact, and I can look forward to mostly a "fair shake" in life.