Mental health: “I, a bipolar, thought I didn’t deserve a job I liked”

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The relationship between work and mental health is complex and is generally talked about too little. Today that occurs the World Mental Health Day, we would like to reiterate how much a daily occupation is an integral part of the care path that a person suffering from a psychopathology has to face.

Alessia, 52 years old from Modena, knows it well: “At 35 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder: for a long time I thought I did not deserve a job that I liked, from which to derive satisfaction. So for over a decade I worked in a betting company, with the only goal of making it to the end of the shift for my salary, “he tells us.

Then comes the closure of the agency and with it a moment of disorientation, from which Alessia comes out thanks to an opportunity born with a course from Peer Support Expert (ESP) organized by the Modena Mental Health Center. A professional figure that can be embodied by «those who have crossed the world of mental illness and started a path of awareness such as to be able to make available their experience of the various territorial services and associations. It was a turning point: I understood that my pain, what I had experienced, could be useful to other people and that providing support could be my job. “

Thus, Alessia begins a new professional path that now sees her chair the association Ideas in a Circle: «I mainly deal with user acceptance, but not only. It is undeniable that carrying out a useful job, which fascinates me and which gives me the opportunity to listen and tell myself, is an integral part of my daily care path “.

If you have not experienced the stigma, the marginalization, which derives from psychological suffering, it is difficult to understand how much we have to work on this front. It is essential to talk serenely about these issues, to welcome those suffering from psychopathology, to put in place the necessary tools as a society so that they do not feel excluded.

Among these, work is crucial. He is also convinced of it psychiatrist Fabrizio Starace, member of the Superior Health Council and director of the festival «Màt, Mental Health Week», The largest choral event in Italy dedicated to these themes, scheduled in Modena from 16 to 23 October with about a hundred meetings, insights, shows and events. At the heart of this eleventh edition, the psychological and social effects linked to the pandemic.

Doctor Starace, in general, how important is a job for a person who has a psychopathology?
«For each of us, work is an instrument for obtaining a decent living, to contribute to the economic and social development of the community, but also an element of identity, an expression of one’s creativity, of personal investment in the world. This is why it is a fundamental human right, constitutionally guaranteed. All this is even more true for those with mental health problems, for which they already suffer from those mechanisms of stigma and marginalization that are still very widespread ».

What role do they play in this regard i Departments of Mental Health?
“The training and job placement programs, of great importance for guaranteeing true social inclusion, are included among the interventions that the Mental Health Departments must guarantee, both to those who have severe psychiatric disorders, and to people – much more numerous – which have so-called “common psychiatric disorders”, such as anxiety and depression. In this second case it is more often necessary to support people who go through periods of suffering so that they can keep their working activity ».

In our country, in 2021, how strong is the stigma against mental illnesses in the workplace still?
«Stigma and prejudice” poison “the civil coexistence of a community, even in work groups or among colleagues. The possible negative consequences, marginalization, underemployment, are unfortunately frequent events, and in turn aggravate pre-existing conditions of discomfort. In many cases, to avoid exposing themselves to this risk, those with mental health problems tend to mask them, to underestimate their extent, to avoid the necessary treatments. In these cases, a phenomenon defined as “presentism” is manifested, that is, the obstinate presence in the workplace even when conditions are such as to indicate a period of absence for appropriate treatment ».

Are the rules governing targeted placement and the obligation to reserve a portion of hiring for disabled people working?
“Their application, unfortunately, is still far from satisfactory, in particular due to the persistence of stigma and prejudice towards mental health problems. There are companies that prefer to face penalties in order not to fulfill their hiring obligation. In this, not only the “mission” of the company is decisive but also the relationship between it and the service network, which is decisive for training, supervision and, if necessary, intervention in crisis situations ».


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