Monday, August 22, 2016

What Jobs Are Important?

As many around the nation saw, there has been a massive wildfire in Southern California. It seriously threatened my hometown, where my parents still live, so I watched it closely. Growing up in a mountain town, we had threatening fires almost annually. Although some were worse than others, this one was probably the worst (as many friends noted: never did we see the whole town evacuated).

During each of the fires, including this one, there was an outpouring of well-deserved appreciation for the fire fighters who saved the town. Their tireless efforts continue to impress us.

At the same time, working the public sector and having been involved in two national-headline-making disasters in the past year, I've also seen that there are MANY more people involved in disaster response than fire, police, and medical. There are a variety of departments, professions, and workers who are deployed 24/7 (often without the overtime and other well-deserved benefits of fire, police, and emergency medical personnel). These other individuals tirelessly help people put their lives back together, provide comfort and resources to those who need it, and help navigate bureaucracies. If you've never been in a disaster, these things may seem superfluous, but the aftermath of a disaster can actually be more traumatic than the disaster itself.

In some ways, I think we place importance on professions and work based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as those who support the basic things are most critical. Is that really fair or accurate? Frankly, losses in some of the higher levels lead people to suicide, so I wouldn't minimize things beyond basic life needs. Those who support disasters in traditional first responder roles are often recognized because of placing their safety on the line. This is not to be minimized. However, the implication is that psychological safety and other parts of life from other first responders are minimized. Being on call actively 24/7 for months on end to survivors of traumas is dangerous work and changes lives forever. It's quiet work, though, and rarely acknowledged.

So let's generalize this. We have a hierarchy for careers. I went into psychology for the meaning. I do believe it is meaningful, and therefore important, work. But how many jobs do we dismiss as "menial," fundamentally limiting their sense of importance and then the workers' sense of meaning? A classic example is a trash truck driver, a job few people would want. What would happen if this profession disappeared? We'd suddenly consider it important. What about amusement park ride operators or ticket takers? Sure, entertainment isn't important in a traditional view of Maslow's hierarchy. However, what would life be without any entertainment? I think it helps us bring meaning, order, and balance to our lives. And without workers to support these things, our lives would be significantly affected.

So do some people really have more important jobs? If so, what should we base importance on?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Stop Calling Presidential Candidates Mentally Ill

Election season can be downright crazy. And it's not infrequent that policies, parties, and candidates also get labelled as "crazy." This may be the first year that at least one candidate is explicitly being called mentally ill as an argument against him.

Trump's behavior has been appalling to many, including within the GOP, who have withdrawn support because of his antics. I've seen at least one petition that asks for him to be explicitly diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. I've seen others more casually call him mentally ill as a way to dismiss him. All of this is used in a derogatory way and to argue for someone in the GOP to deem him unfit for office and candidacy.

For those of us in the behavioral health field, a major part of reforming systems and improving access to care is reducing stigma. Deeming someone unfit for office due to mental illness fundamentally reverses decades of work.

Mental illness does not necessarily mean someone is unstable.

Mental illness does not necessarily mean someone cannot work in highly complex and responsible jobs.

Mental illness does not necessarily mean someone cannot have a "normal" life.

Mental illness simply means someone has a health concern. We all have health concerns at some points in our lives. Oh, and by the way, half of all people will meet criteria for a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives.

No diagnosis or mental disorder alone disqualifies someone from office, in my opinion (Trump's biggest problems aren't due to mental illness). In fact, some research indicates that about half of all Presidents have had mental illness. Others have already noted that narcissism isn't a death sentence for politics. In fact, any level of politics, especially rising to the level of President probably requires some level of narcissism--one has to have some level of grandiosity to seek what is commonly considered the most powerful position on the planet.

However, effective use of narcissism or other symptoms of mental illness can lead an individual to great success. Consider the classic phrase that our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses. People with any struggle can turn it into something effective. That's called resilience and recovery. And it's what gives hope to those with mental illness.

Politico published a good analysis of asking whether Americans would even elect someone with mental illness, clearly addressing the on-going stigma attached with this label. In short, politicians are generally forced to hide any sense of mental illness even though plenty of them have it. How sad is that?

In a time when we're talking about glass ceilings being broken, please don't strengthen the glass ceiling related to mental illness.


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).