Imagine that you are the HR manager for a major employer in your hometown. Your business is growing and you need to hire another accountant. You place the ad, you go through all the responses, and pick out the best two resumes you received. Both candidates have the education, the experience, and the qualifications you are looking for and you expect that it’s going to be difficult to choose between them.
Candidate number one comes to the interview. The first thing you notice is that the candidate, a female, has no hair and has a scarf tied on her head. You suspect that she may have lost her hair as a result of undergoing chemotherapy. She notices your surprised look and confirms that she has cancer and is being treated. You begin the interview, connection is made, you share some laughs, and you spend more time in the interview than you had planned.
Enter candidate number two. Clothes are a little wrinkled, doesn’t offer his hand to shake yours but when he does you notice it is a loose kind of grip. The candidate is looking down and barely makes eye contact with you. You ask how he is doing and he says “well, I struggle with depression and today is one of my bad days.” Where do you go with the interview from there? You probably won’t make a connection and it is likely you will end the interview quickly, concluding that this is not the candidate you want to choose.
Both candidates presented with a serious health issue, but if we are honest, most of us would have selected the first candidate over the second.
Now imagine that you are single and looking for love. You are on your third or fourth date. Things seem to be progressing smoothly and maybe there is a connection. The conversation is going nice, there are some jokes, some laughing when suddenly your date tells you about the bipolar disorder (s)he struggles with. Do you become concerned? Do you stop seeing them? …Be honest…
Mental illness can’t always be easily seen, but it is often easily judged, and is seldom understood. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), 13 million adults struggle with a mental illness that negatively impacts at least one area of their life. Would you have guessed that many people struggle with a mental illness severe enough to negatively impact their life? Because there isn’t a public outcry about mental illness and most people have no idea that 13 million lives are impacted by this “invisible” illness.
We need to find ways to de-stigmatize mental illness. We need to start meaningful conversations about mental illness and how we can treat it. We need to have these discussions in a way that broadens our frame of reference to more than just “crazy people that can’t be trusted.” We need to keep in mind the 13 million people struggling with an illness they are afraid to talk about.
If you know someone you think may be struggling with a mental illness, listen to them. Don’t be quick to offer advice, just be there with them and listen to them as they tell you about their struggles. You might say “wow, I can’t imagine what that must be like for you, have you thought about telling…” And then be there with them, for them, as they begin their journey of healing. Or maybe you think you struggle with a mental illness. If so, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Help is available. Talk with your doctor about what you are experiencing or talk to a therapist for further treatment.