Corporate Eye

Some Notes about Mental Health and the Hiring Process


Labyrinth

In a recent post I noted that concern over post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be one reason for high unemployment rates among veterans.  Potential employers may fear—or even assume–that soldiers who served in combat zones are likely to suffer from PTSD.  And unfortunately, it’s not possible to dismiss these concerns as unjustified.  Rates of depression, dysfunction, and even suicide are reportedly high among troops who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, not all or even most combat veterans experience psychological difficulties, and even those who do are not necessarily unable to become productive employees.  As AMVETS communications director Ryan Gallucci explained in a recent Washington Post op-ed:

Veterans’ advocates and media outlets have called attention to how PTSD is a normal reaction to the abnormal and profound realities of combat. This message was intended to help veterans recognize it is okay to seek counseling while readjusting to civilian life. Unfortunately, the public may have received the message differently, assuming that all of today’s military men and women must suffer from some kind of mental illness.

In reality, any job applicant, veteran or not, could be experiencing psychological difficulties, or might have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.  So it is no more fair to assume that vets are ticking time bombs than to think of every job-seeker as a closet crazy.

Mental health is a complex matter, and there are no simple answers to the dilemmas faced by recruiters and HR organizations.  The best plan is to take a step back, view the entire issue objectively, and approach it as a matter of good management.  The Canadian consulting group Mental Health Works offers some excellent information for employers, including an overview of best practices for the hiring process.  A couple of key tips:

  • When creating/posting job descriptions, identify any essential psychological skills required for the position. “Include any interpersonal or ‘emotional’ competencies that the job requires, such as the ability to multi-task or strong decision-making skills under pressure.”
  • When reviewing resumes, don’t assume that gaps necessarily mean an employee is not capable. “People with a mental illness may have gaps in their resume due to periods of illness or hospitalization,” but if your organization is committed to equal opportunity hiring for people with disabilities, that fact should not be disqualifying.

Unlike physical disability, which is often evident and relatively easy to understand, mental illness can seem like a mystery—and that makes it more difficult to craft and implement positive policies in this area.  For a better understanding of the psychological challenges that face combat troops, read about an innovative program that embeds mental health professionals in U.S. National Guard units.  And for insider views of living with mental challenges, learn from Temple Grandin (an expert on animal behavior who writes about her experiences as an autistic person) and Kay Redfield Jamison (a psychiatrist who herself copes with manic-depression).


(Thanks to AnonMoos—great handle!–for the graphic variation on a classic Cretan labyrinth.)

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Cynthia Giles has followed a serpentine career path from academia to publishing to marketing and design to information technology and corporate communications. There’s plenty of detail about this journey at www.cynthiagiles.com, but briefly--the common theme has been ideas, and how to present them effectively. Along the way, she became an accidental expert on data warehousing and business intelligence, and for the past ten years she has combined corporate contracting with an independent consulting practice that focuses on marketing strategy for smaller businesses and non-profits. Having spent quite a bit of time looking for work, and anywhere from two weeks to two years inside a wide variety of American companies—she has given much thought to what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating a great employment fit.
 
Comments

I am a Vietnam combat veteran who was awarded the CIB along with other citatations plus I am being treated for combat related PTSD. I thought the days of judging a Vietnam veteran were over. I recently put a application in to join the R.I. Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. I met everyone of their qualifications to become a member, plus. I was denied membership to this R.I. CVMA Chapter 9 because I refused to be prospected which is not part of their bylaws. Talk about a slap in the face, a true combat veteran being denied into a group who call themselves combat veterans. The person who denied me membership was a NGuard Iraq vet and the CVMA Natl was aware of this problem but hid their head in the sand. Once again the Vietnam veteran is shunned by another group, this time veterans who claim to be combat veterans. This does wonders for one’s outlook and positive motivation.

I really feel sorry for individuals who got denied of their job application because of a PTSD. I just think they deserve a second chance.

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