The stigma of mental illness often has a greater impact on people's employment prospects than physical disability or illness, Australian researchers reported today.

The study, commissioned by WISE Employment, a not-for-profit organization aimed at empowering job seekers to find meaningful work, revealed that mental illness, even in today's supposed period of apparent enlightenment, continues to be a serious obstacle to employment.

The study was commissioned as part of Mental Health Week, which started on Sunday, October 7th, 2012.

The researchers explained that one in every five Australian adults has been affected with some kind of mental illness during the last 12 months.

The main barrier to employing people who have had or have a mental illness is simply ignorance - or lack of understanding, said Matthew Lambelle, from WISE Employment.

Mental illness is not associated with poorer job performance

Matthew Lambelle emphasized that mental illness is not linked to job performance.

WISE Employment (WISE) says it is dedicated towards the reduction of stigma associated with employing people who have a mental illness. The organization says that people with a mental illness are capable of working, and doing their jobs well; sometimes even being the best person for a position.

WISE explained that most employers with at least five workers most likely already have personnel with some kind of mental illness, many in positions of trust and responsibility.

The organization urges employers who have considered employing somebody who has a mental illness to register a job vacancy online or to call them on 1300 12 WISE.

Matthew Lambelle quoted research that showed that 72% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which took on a person with a mental illness had either a very positive or positive experience.

Mental health and stigma, still a serious obstacle

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), USA, stigma is the main reason three-quarters of all people with a mental illness do not seek treatment. Patients fear discrimination, shame, disrespect, or contempt.

Even self-stigma is a problem that affects many people with mental illness. After hearing statements about psychiatric disorders, the individual, whose quality of life would improve considerably with proper treatment, may lose all hope. Experts say that hope is vital for recovery.

Eliminating stigma requires more public awareness about the realities concerning mental illness and the effectiveness of treatments today.

NAMI informs that 1 in every 4 Americans lives with some kind of mental illness during their lifetime. To ensure that patients recover properly, there must be a comprehensive range of health services and support.

Mental illnesses, like other illnesses, are biological disorders. They affect how the person thinks, including their moods and how they relate to things and people around them. Without proper treatment, the person's ability to perform daily functions may be disrupted. There is no link between mental illness and a person's willpower, character or intelligence. However, they can be treated effectively with medication, psychosocial treatments and supports, or both.

NAMI explains that up to 90% of people with a mental illness who seek professional help experience considerable reductions in their symptoms and achieve a much better quality of life, compared to those who do not.

Support from friends, household members and family is crucial. Family members usually require support and guidance too for best results.

What is Mental Health Week?

Mental Health Week this year (2012) is from the 7th to 13th of October and is a special week in some parts of the world. The US Congress established, in 1990, that Mental Health Awareness Week (MIAW) should occur during the first full week of October each year. It was set up in recognition of NAMI's efforts to raise mental illness awareness.

In Australia, Mental Health Week is on the same dates, and also aims to raise awareness of mental health and well-being in the wider community.

According to Mental Health Week, Australia:

"A critical part of reducing stigma to support those with a mental illness (and their carers); is public awareness and an understanding that mental illness, like mental health, is part of the human condition."

In the United Kingdom, Mental Health Week is in May of each year.

Written by Christian Nordqvist