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Myths Around Mental Illness Cause High Rates of Unemployment

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by Bandy X. Lee for The Conversation

Even though mental illness affects one in five adults – and depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide – secrecy and stigma around the issue continue.

The problem is especially acute in the workplace. While individuals with mental illness often wish to work and are able to, their unemployment rates remain three to four times those of individuals without mental illness.

I’m an expert on mental health , and I have found that to dispel stigmas surrounding mental health in the workplace, researchers like me need first to tackle several myths.

1. Everyone has different abilities

Let us examine the first myth: that mental illness makes one less able to do a job.

Mental disorder does not interfere with all capacities, and can sometimes improve others. One study shows that almost half of U.S. presidents suffered from some kind of mental disorder. Some have performed the most challenging tasks in history.

For example, Abraham Lincoln’s severe depression is said to have made him more compassionate, while Theodore Roosevelt’s hypomanic moods made him an exuberant and influential personality.

There is plenty of evidence that, given the right supports, people with mental illness can be successful at work. Conversely, individuals do not have to have a mental illness to lack the mental capacity to do a job.

2. Mental versus physical illness

The second myth is that mental illness is associated with moral failing, unlike physical illness.

In our own lifetimes, we may remember the stigma and secrecy that surrounded cancer and AIDS. Scientific research and education helped these prejudices give way to understanding.

The more we know, the more we understand that mental disorders are not moral failings or subjective complaints that people can simply “snap out” of, but are serious, debilitating and deadly medical conditions like any other.

Within medicine, psychiatric diagnoses are some of the most reliable. And while there are no blood tests, there are standardized scales that can be just as dependable for diagnosing and monitoring prognosis.

Trump has blamed mental illness for mass shootings. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

3. Mental illness does not equal violence

The third myth is that those who have mental illness are dangerous.

Media and public perception continue to perpetuate this myth, even though large-scale studies have shown no difference in levels of violence from the general population. People with mental illness are actually more often victims of violent crimes than perpetrators.

In 2017, after a mass shooting in Texas, President Donald Trump stated that “mental health is your problem here … this isn’t a guns situation.” He reissued similar statements after other mass shootings in Parkland, Florida; in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; in Thousand Oaks, California; in El Paso, Texas; and in Dayton, Ohio.

This increases the victimization of mentally ill people, as it augments the suffering of those already afflicted by stigma.

4. Challenging stigmas

Finally and sometimes fatally, the myth persists that speaking about mental illness increases stigma.

Erving Goffman gives a compelling description of how stigma stereotypes a person as abnormal, deformed and dangerous. Stigma, hence, is a form of violence. It originates from ignorance or misunderstanding and harms those suffering from mental illness by depriving them of their humanity.

Stigma creates for people with mental illness conditions for social exclusion, employment discrimination, victimhood to violent crime and increased suffering, which can lead to self-stigma, poor self-care and greater depression and suicide.

For example, Trump recently accused Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of being a “a maniac … a deranged human being” and “a very sick man,” but he is not the only politician to do so. Invoking mental health as an insult further stigmatizes those already suffering in harmful ways.

Speaking about mental illness helps educate and dispel myths. Demystifying mental illness and distinguishing it from the person and a person’s abilities is critical to diminishing stigma and improving the lives of those already burdened with mental illness.

Why people work

Work is more than a means for material support. It is also a major way individuals stay mentally healthy and socially integrated.

Especially for those dealing with a serious mental illness, employment is important for daily structure and routine, a sense of self, meaningful goals and opportunities for friendships and social support.

The workplace is therefore an important setting for speaking about mental health and illness. Breaking the silence can be beneficial for removing barriers to seeking treatment, staying well and staying employed.

Employers already bear much of the burden of mental illness. As 85% of employees’ mental health conditions go undiagnosed or untreated as of 2017, employers subsume more than US$100 billion in lost revenue and 217 million lost workdays each year. Prejudicial attitudes also exclude needed talent in the workforce.

Fear of discrimination leads many not to seek care, despite the availability of successful treatments.

Exclusion from the workforce can result in material deprivation, loss of self-confidence and self-identity, and isolation and marginalization that are key risk factors in mental health. High lifetime unemployment even lowers life expectancy, presumably as a combined result of stress, depression, reduced health care and loss of social networks.

Workplace interventions to interrupt the secrecy and stigma surrounding mental illness can be effective. Some programs might involve psycho-education, increasing mental health literacy, workshops, online courses that target prejudicial attitudes and behavior, and crisis intervention training.

Awareness of inequalities with respect to race, gender, age, sexuality, class and other related factors, as well as the benefits of diversity, have grown recently, but society has a long way to go with mental illness.

Bandy X. Lee is Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale School of Medicine, Yale University.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Public Health Updates From LA County on Novel Coronavirus

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recently hosted a press briefing to provide an update on the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and the interagency work being done to identify and assess travelers who may have been exposed to the virus.
 
A significant number of resources across Los Angeles County are focused on protecting the public’s health at large,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health.

“To date, there have been no reported coronavirus cases in LA County and currently the risk of local transmission is low according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We will keep everyone informed as more information becomes available. We are urging the public to remain calm, as it is very unlikely that they are at risk of contracting this virus,” she added.
 
The CDC announced the first case in the United States on January 21, 2020. Recently, hundreds of cases of pneumonia associated with a novel coronavirus in Wuhan City have been identified.

Public Health will continue assisting the CDC to ensure that travelers who may have visited Wuhan City that have a fever or respiratory illness symptoms are appropriately screened, tested and receive care. Travelers who have visited Wuhan City who are not ill upon their arrival to the LA County are advised to contact a healthcare provider and seek care if they become ill while here.

While there is no cure for this virus, hospital partners and clinical providers are able to test and care for ill travelers to minimize transmission and treatment for symptoms.
 
Health care professionals have been reminded to use meticulous infection control practices at all times.  Public Health will continue to provide updated information about the diagnosis and management of cases of novel coronavirus to health care providers and all hospitals in the County in an effort to identify and contain any future cases.

About Coronavirus

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning that they cause infections that usually exist exclusively in animals but can be transmitted to humans. However, some coronaviruses are also able to be transmitted from person to person, like SARS and MERS, while others are not.

While there is no specific cure for infections caused by the novel coronavirus, hospital partners and clinical providers are able to provide care for symptoms caused by the infection. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing

People who have traveled to Wuhan, China since December 1, 2019, could have been exposed to the virus. Seek medical care if you traveled to Wuhan and develop a fever and fever or respiratory symptoms within 14 days of your return. We want to underscore that there is no need to exclude anyone who has traveled to or from Wuhan City, or China in general, unless they are symptomatic, at which time they should seek a medical evaluation.
 
There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with this novel coronavirus, and investigations are ongoing in China and at least five other countries.
 
For more information about 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) visit  publichealth.lacounty.gov, or call 2-1-1.


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LA Public Defender Leads $1.2 Million Grant to Help Mentally Ill

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LOS ANGELES — The LA County Public Defender’s Office is the lead agency for a $1.2 million grant to divert people suffering from mental illness out of jail and into treatment.

LA County has been awarded the two-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation to directly address the over-incarceration of the mentally ill.

Los Angeles County operates the world’s largest jail system and its jails remain critically overcrowded. One of the main drivers of the local jail population is the incarceration of the mentally ill.

The grant will allow the Public Defender’s Office, working with other County and City agencies, to expand pre-plea diversion for those in custody as a result of a mental disorder. The effort will work toward breaking the cycle from medical and mental health facilities to custody, with a focus on the homeless population.

“Mentally ill people do not belong in jails,” LA County Public Defender Ricardo D. García said. “The startup funding provided by the MacArthur Foundation represents a substantial opportunity to mitigate the counterproductive use of criminal courts and jails as holding centers for the mentally ill men, women and children of Los Angeles County.”

This new initiative will include embedding mental health professionals in high volume courtrooms, same-day assessments of defendants who appear to suffer from a mental health disorder, and the pre-plea release and diversion of qualifying individuals into mental health treatment programs.

To help guide the launch of this program, the initiative will utilize provisions of AB 1810, a state law enacted in 2018 that allows pre-plea diversion for some defendants with mental health needs.

Partner agencies in this endeavor include the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender; Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office; Department of Mental Health; Sheriff’s Department; Department of Probation; Department of Public Health; Health Agency Departments; County Counsel’s Bail Reform Team; Project 180, with support from the Superior Court.

The $1.2 million MacArthur grant will go toward diverting people suffering from mental illness out of jails and into treatment.

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L.A. Teachers Sue Delta Airlines for Fuel Dump on Elementary School

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L.A. Teachers Sue Delta Airlines for Fuel Dump on Elementary School

LOS ANGELES — Delta Airlines just got hit with a lawsuit because one of its jets allegedly dumped fuel on an L.A. elementary school.

Video showed Delta flight 89, a Boeing 777 bound for China, turning back to LAX Tuesday to make an emergency landing, and spewing fuel as it went in preparation for landing. Unfortunately, that fuel ended up dousing children at Park Avenue Elementary in the city of Cudahy, CA.

Four teachers at the school have hired Gloria Allred to take on Delta. In the suit, obtained by TMZ, they say the pilot was asked by air traffic control if there was a need to dump fuel before landing … and the pilot said no.

The suit alleges the pilot dumped the fuel without notifying the control tower … and the big problem is … it was done at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. According to docs, that’s simply too low to allow the fuel to evaporate before it reaches the ground — it should be done at 5,000 feet or higher.

In the suit, the teachers say their clothes, flesh and eyes were coated in jet fuel — and it also got into their mouths. They say they had trouble breathing and needed medical treatment.

They’re suing Delta for negligence … and seeking damages.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)


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