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Stereotypes, mental health and employment

Mental illness affects millions of people worldwide, yet it remains stigmatized and misunderstood – especially in the workplace.

Stereotypes of mental illness manifest in multiple harmful ways. Despite legal protections, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), biases against mental illness persist. 

How stereotypes turn into discrimination

Here are some of the ways discrimination manifests in the workplace against those with autism, ADHD, PTSD and other mental health conditions:

  • Assumptions about performance: As soon as an employer hears that an employee has mental health issues like autism, depression or anxiety, they may immediately equate that to “incompetence” or “unreliability.” 
  • Fear of liability: Employers may also assume that employees with certain mental health conditions, like PTSD, pose a risk to themselves or others in the workplace. As a result, they may fear possible legal repercussions from other employees or clients.
  • Lack of understanding: Mental illness is endlessly diverse, but employers often lack awareness about the nature of different conditions – and are disinclined to learn. Some may see anybody with mental illness as inherently damaged, dangerous or weak – while others may dismiss an employee’s condition as “fake” or exaggerated.

The stereotypes and biases against those with mental illness can lead to refusals to hire, refusals to make reasonable accommodations, unnecessary performance improvement plans and denials of advancements or opportunities that would lead to career growth. 

Often, employees with mental health issues can do their jobs just as well as any other employee with minimal accommodations, such as flexible work schedules, modified job duties or small changes in their work environments. Too often, however, they’re denigrated, treated with hostility or fear or even fired as soon as their employer finds out about their condition.

If you’ve experienced workplace discrimination, instead of acceptance and accommodation, over a mental health condition, you may have legal options.

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