Mental well-being for all

March 19, 2015

The lecturer who describes their schizophrenia is to be commended for their unusual approach of accepting their mental illness and disclosing it to their manager from the outset (“Light on the darkness”, Opinion, 12 March). However, the notion that schizophrenia should be “seen as a strength” and as a means of bringing “insight and diversity” is questionable.

Symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, confused thinking and behavioural change. As the writer observes, the condition is psychotic, with sufferers sometimes unable to distinguish thoughts from reality. However, research, teaching and even administration require the capacity to distinguish truth from falsehood by robust methodology and process. Students need ordered exposition and relationships based on stable and predictable character. University work involves coping with stress. Above all, anyone exercising management functions needs consistently sound judgement, not least to avoid complaints and legal actions against their institution and themselves.

Principles of equality and diversity rightly indicate that individuals and groups must not be treated less favourably because of disability and that all must be able to realise their full potential. The same principles also rightly indicate that bullying, harassment and victimisation must be eradicated from the workplace. These last forms of unacceptable discrimination are likely consequences of the perceptions and behaviours associated with schizophrenia.

How should one colleague’s entitlement to fair treatment and the realisation of their potential be reconciled with the entitlement of others to work free from discrimination? An “anything goes” approach to equality and diversity is untenable. It ignores the fact that workplaces are collective spaces in which one person’s conduct may negatively affect the health, safety or welfare of others, which are legally protected. In likely cases of conflicting entitlements, priority should always be given to those entitled to work free from discrimination.

David Grumett
School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

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