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Discriminating Against People with Mental Illness

You’d think that as people become more and more educated about the complex biological, social and psychological factors that go to make up mental illness, people would become more understanding and less stigmatizing. As we are on the cusp of having a nationwide ban from discriminating in mental healthcare reimbursements, you’d think government and ordinary people are getting the message.

Well, you would be wrong.

First, we learn from the Mental Health Blog that Nova Scotia almost began discriminating against drivers renewing their driver’s license because of a mental disorder. Their new renewal form initially had a question regarding one’s prior history of mental disorder diagnoses, as though there were any research to show that people with a mental illness somehow were responsible for more troubles related to driving than those without. Of course that’s just a ridiculous proposition, but the form still apparently asks the question about any mental or physical disability that might prevent someone from operating a motor vehicle.

That sort of general question about one’s ability to properly operate a motor vehicle is more appropriate, as long as it doesn’t single out mental disorders. I know of no mental disorder diagnosis that would be, in and of itself, sufficient grounds for denying one’s driving privileges, but one could make the case for some very extreme disorders that are not being sufficiently treated. But the likelihood of such severe, untreated mental disorders turning up in any quantities necessary to actually ask such a question on a form calls into question whether the people doing the actual approvals of these things are actually paying attention to who’s requesting the license. brings us an article about how jury consultants and lawyers are now bouncing potential jurors from serving on jury duty because of their prescribed medications. While I wouldn’t want a juror nodding off during my trial either, it does seem to prying into the privacy of an individual volunteering to serve on a jury by delving too far deeply into their health or medical history. Are you really going to suggest it’s okay to suggest someone isn’t capable of serving on a jury because they took some Benadryl this morning? Since already half the population is on a regular medication, that would suggest a lawyer has a ready-made excuse to deny the right to sit on a jury by invoking the medication reason. Even if the medication is completely harmless or has no ill side effects in the particular individual (since side effects vary widely from person to person, even while on the same medication).

These kinds of actions seem to be only one short step away from outright discrimination against people who have perceived flaws that will affect their judgment or ability to adequately carry out the necessary actions, whether it be driving or making rational decisions about someone’s guilt or innocence. A mental disorder diagnosis is not a character flaw, nor prevents anyone from doing anything they want to in life. Nor is treatment for such a disorder automatically some sort of reliable filter to screen out a person from being able to drive a car or sit on a jury.

These sorts of stories are sad reminders of how much farther we have to go in terms of education and information to combat discrimination against people with mental illness.

Read the Mental Health Blog entry: Nova Scotia Discriminates Against Drivers with Mental Illness

Read the article: What’s Your Juror Taking?

Discriminating Against People with Mental Illness

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Discriminating Against People with Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Sep 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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