• Mental Illness at Work
  • December 17, 2012 | Author: Earl Phillips
  • Law Firm: McCarthy Tétrault LLP - Vancouver Office
  • A recent piece in the Vancouver Sun highlights some concerns with new mental illness diagnoses that are likely coming to your workplace.

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is being revised. When DSM V comes out next May we will see new mental disorders and broadened definitions of existing disorders. It’s important because the DSM is basically the “bible” of psychiatry and is relied on by the medical profession, insurers and regulators for identifying mental illness and for verifying specific diagnoses. For one example, the DSM is specifically referred to in BC’s Workers Compensation Act and will be the guide for determining whether there is a mental disorder under the new Bill 14 bullying and harassment provisions.

    DSM V is already controversial. Many of the changes no doubt will involve highly technical matters on which it is difficult to comment. But any layman with some experience with DSM diagnoses of problems in the workplace can see a disturbing trend: the DSM is growing in its scope and reach, and common human experiences are being identified as mental illness, treated and medicated with increasing frequency.

    As the Sun’s article points out, the new scope of “generalized anxiety disorders” may capture the temper tantrums of every child you have ever known. And more worrying for employers, the stresses and challenges of work that we need for motivation and inspiration, may lead to reactions more likely to be diagnosed as mental illness.

    It is already difficult for employers to identify and respond to true mental illness. It is going to be more difficult to deal with the new and broadened categories being identified in DSM V. For now, one useful resource is found on the website of the Canadian Mental Health Association. There is a checklist of warning signs of mental health problems. Most useful, is the recognition at the end of the checklist:

    It is important to emphasize that people behaving in these ways may be simply having a bad day or week, or may be working through a particularly difficult time in their lives that is temporary.