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Californians with mental health issues still face discrimination

Movies and television often perpetuate the stereotype that just about every Los Angeles resident is in therapy. However, the stigma associated with mental illness is still a source of discrimination for many Californians looking for a job or hoping to remain in their job. In fact, many prefer to remain "in the closet" to employers and colleagues. However, roughly 46 million adults in America suffer or have recently suffered from an emotional, behavioral or mental disorder. However, studies have shown that employers are still reluctant to hire someone with even a history of mental health problems.

The unemployment rate for people suffering from some form of mental illness is higher than that for people with a physical disability. The term "mental illness" has a stigma all its own. However, it can run the gamut from anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Fear and lack of understanding are often to blame. Employers may be concerned about how a mental health condition will impact an employee's performance or even whether the person may cause harm in the workplace.

Many people have learned the hard way not to be honest about their condition. One California man with bipolar disorder disclosed his condition to a potential employer only to be told, "We don't have the time for that." However, according to mental health professionals, employees who are able to be open about their condition without losing their jobs gain confidence and do better in their careers. Further, they are less likely to neglect their therapy or other medical treatment out of fear of taking time off.

Disability discrimination against someone with mental illness is illegal, just as it is for people with physical disabilities, under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Just as they do for people in wheelchairs, for example, employers are mandated to give qualified workers with mental health issues "reasonable accommodations" for their condition. This could be something as simple as providing them with a quiet workspace when needed.

Some California employers aren't informed about these laws or simply ignore them. It's essential for anyone with a mental health issue to know their employment rights. Employment law attorneys can help people who have been denied a position or lost their job for that reason determine what options are available to them so that they can be productive employees.

Source:  San Jose Mercury News, "The last stigma: mental illness and the workplace" Martha Ross, Contra Costa Times, Mar. 07, 2014

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