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The Continuing Problem of Stigmatizing Mental Illness

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Melody Moezzi, an attorney who is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, in an article in the OP-ED section of the New York Times of Tuesday, August 6,2013, wrote that young lawyers who passed the bar examination face a serious obstacle if they happen to suffer from a mental illness from Major Depression to Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia. The obstacle is that they must fill out a questionnaire, a certification of fitness that all new lawyers must answer, that, among other things, asserts that they have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. When Moezzi faced the same certification of fitness, she was diagnosed with major depression, which, at the time, was not included on the questionnaire. Recently, it was included so that lawyers who passed the bar, must respond that they have been diagnosed with the illness. In other words, these beginning lawyers who are asking for admission to the bar, must demonstrate that they possess the requisite fitness and moral character for the practice of law.

Moezzi points out that inquiries are conducted when an applicant reports that they have a mental illness. She then cites cases where lawyers were granted “conditional” admission to the bar to be re examined each year. One of the concerns that is expressed is that the applicant not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others. The fact is that the entire process, including the implications that people who passed the bar exam may not be fit to practice the law just because of a mental illness is humiliating to say the least.

At this point it’s a good idea to look at some of the historical figures who suffered mental illnesses and were successful in ways the deeply affected society and history in the most positive ways possible. For example:

Ludwig van Beethoven
Winston Churchill
Charles Dickens
Ernest Hemingway
Abe Lincoln
Michelangelo
Sir Isaac Newton
Leo Tolstoy
Vincent van Gogh
and many more.

Just imagine what we would have lost if these historical figures had been barred from making their contributions because they had mental illness?

Today, when we know so much more about mental illness than ever before and have many excellent treatments to control symptoms, it is especially intolerable that anyone be barred from the professions because of mental illness. Yet, the problem of stigma persists. It is good that someone like Ms. Moezzi points out the problem in light of the fact that she is a functioning attorney with bipolar disorder. She is to be congratulated.

Your comments are encouraged

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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