Schizophrenia is a relatively common -- though largely misunderstood -- mental disorder. The term schizophrenia, which many immediately associate with Hollywood-perpetuated displays of clearly deranged behavior, actually refers to a group of brain disorders that can result in delusions, hallucinations and disorders in thinking and behaving, according to The Mayo Clinic. While it can appear earlier or later in life, this disorder most commonly becomes apparent between the ages of 15 and 30. Because of its adult onset, managers may find themselves faced with the struggle of dealing with an employee who is struggling to control this potentially debilitating disorder. If you know or suspect that a worker under your charge is feeling the effects of schizophrenia, work to help her receive the therapeutic assistance she needs to learn to live with this life-long mental disability.
Have a dialogue with the employee. You aren’t a doctor, so don’t try to diagnose schizophrenia. If you notice that your employee’s behavior is changing or her work is not as stellar as it once was, talk to her about your concerns. Don’t suggest that she may be schizophrenic. Allow her to bring this diagnosis to the table. When you have this dialogue, be supportive and explain to your worker that you aren’t out to fire her but instead are concerned about her well-being.
Learn about the disorder. If you are operating with a limited knowledge of what schizophrenia is, it’s time to hit the books. The more you know about the disorder, the less scared you will be of the worker who is struggling to cope with it, and the better equipped you will be to help her as she wages war against this challenging mental disorder. Encourage others to join you in your quest for education, asking fellow members of management to study up as well so you are all equally well versed in the specifics of the mental disorder and, as such, able to be supportive and helpful to the employee in question.
Adopt supportive language. Words like “nuts” or “crazy” may be ones that are bandied about relatively regularly, but they are ones you should absolutely avoid if you have an employee who you know or suspect may be suffering from schizophrenia. Many individuals impacted by mental illnesses like this one are reluctant to seek medical treatment because of the stigma attached to disabilities of this type. Don’t perpetuate this problem by using insensitive language. Also, correct workers or others within the workplace who use these insensitive terms, explaining to them the importance of removing them from their vocabularies.
Support the employee with accommodations. Individuals with schizophrenia are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and, as such, must be supported by employers. Make any accommodations you can to help the employee thrive at work despite the medical challenges she faces. These accommodations can include moving the employees workplace, changing work schedules, reducing job expectations or permitting the employee extra time off so she can tend to her medical needs.
- Schizophrenia.com: Schizophrenia Facts and Statistics
- MayoClinic.com: Schizophrenia
- Mental Health America: What to do when you think an employee may need mental health help
- Achieve Solutions: Schizophrenia and the Workplace: Tips for Supervisors
- Center for Addiction and Mental Health: Discovering someone close to you has schizophrenia
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.