Stigma Towards Mental Health Stigma Impacts Vocation


Freud stated that the components of happiness are love and work. Yet, it’s interesting that people in our society tend to accept, almost unconsciously, the idea that mentally ill people are not suitable for either of these activities.

This idea seems to pervade, especially in the minds of people who adhere to conventional modes of thought. It is severe stigmatization that allows those who are not mentally ill to placidly ignore the difficulties of those who are, as these non-mentally ill people proceed without any kind of empathy for those much less fortunate.

The functioning of mentally ill individuals in vocational spheres implicates labelling theory. Mentally ill people judged to be less competent, and they become this by means of self-fulfilling prophecy. The mentally ill are labelled and viewed as dysfunctional due to stigma, they then internalize negative self-evaluations, they react with less confidence, and they understand that they are not “normal”, they become agonizingly doubtful about their ability to achieve normal lives, they tend to become less competent than other “normal” people, they focus on their inadequacies and undermine their potentials for success, especially in the realms of love and work.

Nevertheless, there do exist types of employment are seen as appropriate for mentally ill individuals, including jobs at fast food restaurants, dishwashing in restaurants, serving in convenience stores, stocking products in stores, and as peer support specialists in mental health clinics and facilities. As an unspoken precedent, there seems a normative view that the more simple and menial the proposed jobs is, the more likely the mentally ill individual will be able to perform the functions of the job.

This normative view is not blatantly unsupported. However, it is herein contended that, except in the case of highly specialized, complicated professions that require extensive experience, training and advanced degrees, what type of job really suits the mentally individual in terms of a niche may be counterintuitive.

The right “niche” is a powerful idea. A person’s niche may have little to do with education, IQ, cognitive ability, or aspiration. The right niche may have to do with the stress of a job, uniquely perceived by the individual and the mentally ill individual in particular. The right niche may also involve the atmosphere of a workplace or the idiosyncratic relationships that one forms with one’s boss or one’s co-workers.

Acceptance in the workplace is to be sought after by the mentally ill individual. This can mean hiding one of the most important aspects of one’s identity: one’s mental illness, (and it should be noted that, however we try to circumvent the issue, one’s mental illness is a large aspect of the mentally ill individual’s identity.) The choice for the mentally ill seems to be honesty about their mental illness, entailing a lack of acceptance associated with stigma that causes one to denigrate oneself and one’s ability, or concealing their mental illness, which is accompanied by anxiety, shame and a feeling of lacking integrity. This situation, for the mentally ill individual, amounts to the emergence of neuroticism, in addition to the mania or depression or psychotic symptoms that this individual may display.

The psychological pain of stigma is perceived subjectively by the mentally ill individual, although all mentally ill individuals know, consciously or unconsciously, what stigma means in terms of the psychological ramifications. Overall, the solution to this conundrum would seem to be efforts to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness. Acceptance of the mentally ill by larger society is imperative. How this may take place is an even greater conundrum.

Image via Dmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock.

Ann Reitan, PsyD

Ann Reitan, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist and well published essayist of fiction and creative nonfiction. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of Washington, Master of Arts in Psychology from Pepperdine University, and Doctorate of Clinical Psychology from Alliant International University. Her post-doctoral research at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, involved personality theory, idiodynamics and creativity in literature. She recently published Illuminating Schizophrenia: Insights into the Uncommon Mind.
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