“Basket case” is kind of a catchy phrase — fun to say, rolls off the tongue nicely. The movie “Breakfast Club” referred to the quirky, shy girl as the basket case, a character I’ve identified with since high school for her rumpled style and introversion.
While I’m a progressive who’s not especially fond of political correctness and clickbait articles titled “10 Things to Never Say to Another Human Being,” I am an advocate for the precision of language. We should be aware of the nuances and implicit bias in the words we use.
One of our current presidential candidates referred to his rival Ted Cruz as “having a mental health crisis.” He identified Bernie Sanders as “crazy” and called radio host Glenn Beck “a mental basket case.”(2)
Here we have an example of a potential world leader stigmatizing mental illness, using accusations to dismiss a person’s stability or capability. Stigmatizing mental illness is not only ill-informed, it’s dangerous.
“People who feel ashamed of their condition, or who believe that it implies a personal failing on their part, are much less likely to seek treatment or social or familial support,” wrote journalist Jesse Singal in her nymag.com blog Science of Us.(3)
Think about that the next time you use the words “lunatic” or “crazy” to describe someone. Stigmatizing mental illness prevents people, sometimes suicidal people, from seeking help.
In 2001, it was estimated that 30 percent of Americans had a mental illness, and an early U.S. survey revealed that less than one-third of those with mental illness sought help.(4)
Stigma is deadly. To imply that mental illness is a barrier to a successful career in one’s field is misguided bigotry.
Mental Illness and Employability
Famous people with mental illness belie the assumption that mental illness is a handicap:
- John Nash, Nobel Prize winner in mathematics
- Leo Tolstoy, author
- Ben Stiller, comedian and actor
- J.K. Rowling, author(6)
Oh, and perhaps you’ve heard of this fellow:
- Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States(5)
Mental illness, like a physical disability or ill health, may require adjustments in daily living, but is not ipso facto a barrier to achievement and success.
Accommodations You Can Ask for at Work(1)
Half of employers in the UK believe that none of their employees will have a mental health issue.(4)
“There is therefore a need both to inform employees about how common mental disorders are, and to make it clear that a mental illness diagnosis in itself has no implications for the employability of any particular individual,” wrote psychiatrist Graham Thornicraft in the British Journal of Psychiatry.(4)
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law guaranteeing workplace protections and accommodations for the mentally ill:(1)
- Flexible work schedules or start times
- Reduced distractions or noise in the work area
- Working from home or telecommuting
- Written directions and task lists
- Regular written or verbal feedback
- Flexible break schedule
- Private, quiet space to rest during a break
- Use of a job coach
If you would like information on how to request an accommodation, or if you feel you have experienced workplace discrimination, read more here.
Abraham Lincoln was a “basket case,” to use the Republican candidate’s term. Lincoln, who suffered from severe, suicidal depression, wrote, “A tendency to melancholy ... let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault.”(5)
I believe Mr. Lincoln’s record speaks for itself.
Read more about stigma and mental illness here.
Reviewed October 5, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Succeeding at Work. nami.org. Retrieved October 3, 2016. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a-Mental-Health-Condition/Succeeding-at-Work
2) How Donald Trump Gets It Wrong On Mental Illness Every Time. HuffingtonPost.com. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
3) Attacking Heidi Cruz for Her Depression Is a Disgraceful Move. Retrieved October 3, 2016. ScienceofUs.
4) Thornicroft, Graham et al. Discrimination against people with mental illness: what can psychiatrists do? RCPsych.org. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
5) Abraham Lincoln Research Site. RogerJNorton.com. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
6) 9 Famous Women Who Have Spoken Out About Therapy. HuffingtonPost.com. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
7) Trump Attacks America’s Veterans By Calling Vets Suffering From PTSD Weak. PoliticsUSA.com. Retrieved October 3, 2016.