Does mental illness make someone a less competent worker? What’s precipitated this question is a comment I received on my previous post. It read:
“…if I had a family member recieving treatment from an OT, PT, any field, even teacher, and had a choice between someone with a history of mental illness and someone without, I would not hesitate to choose the person without. […] I don’t want the people close to me receiving potentially less the the best. [….] I also think that anyone saying otherwise is not being fully honest with themselves…”
Everyone has different perspectives and it’s fair enough this particular commenter has been honest in sharing her viewpoint. Would I be willing to use the services of a professional who has a mental illness? Given their symptoms did not impact on how they performed the job, then yes I would. I see no reason why a person who has a mental illness can’t do as well as a person without. Especially as mental illness manifests in so many different ways. Whereas in one person it may affect their job to an extent where they cannot work, in another it may make a very insignificant impact on the job that they do. On placement I do everything that the other students do and my mental health issues do not influence the quality of my work. I have friends who are student health practitioners with mental health issues, including nurses, social work, psychology, medicine and I wouldn’t hesitate to use their services.
If someone was quite unwell though and it was impacting their work, that’s a different matter. If a person in the depths of a mental illness could not concentrate enough to provide me treatment, if their self care flew out the window, if their motivation decreased to a point where they weren’t completing their workload or turning up, then no, I wouldn’t use them. And as a health professional, one of the responsibilities that come with it is recognising when an illness, whether it be of a mental or physical nature, puts you and/or your client at risk.
It comes as a sad reminder though that many people out in the big wide world may not be so understanding. This may include both employers or potential clients. They may say ‘no’ as soon as they hear the term ‘mental illness’. They may sack you after a period of being unwell. Just a couple of weeks ago, my uncle went back to work after one or two months as a patient in a psychiatric ward, only to find out he’s been fired. It’s a real shame that employment, especially as a health professional, is yet another barrier that may be faced by people with mental health issues, because of the prejudices that society hold.