Last week, Simone Biles, one of the most talented athletes in world history, dropped out of the Olympics due to a temporary mental illness that precluded her ability to perform.
Due to the stigma of mental illness, people can be suspicious of the legitimacy of mental illnesses, especially illnesses like that experienced by Ms. Biles. Nevertheless, the law has begun to evolve to properly recognize mental illness as illness. That legal evolution has resulted from two large misunderstandings being put to the wayside and being replaced with accurate facts.
First, mental illness is difficult to impossible to “fake.” Professionals, including doctors, are trained to identify mental illness in the same way that physicians diagnose traditional, physical ailments like broken bones, pinched nerves and skin damage.
Second, mental health challenges can legitimately, adversely affect people’s ability to function just like people who have traditional, outwardly visible ailments, whose ailments can preclude effective completion of work.
Certain types of traditional, outwardly visible physical ailments and certain types of mental ailments may not be unable to be overcome by sheer willpower. Otherwise stated, severe physical ailments like paralysis can preclude people from performing some physical/bodily functions. Similarly, mental illness can preclude some people from handling some mental functions of daily life.
For this reason, people, like singer/celebrity Britney Spears, have been determined (by doctors and a court of law) to lack the ability to handle certain aspects of their lives. This does not mean that Ms. Spears is dumb or unable to make every decision in her life. It means that a court has decided that some aspects of Ms. Spears’s life (certain decision-making) is hard for Ms. Spears to accomplish on her own. Similarly, a person who suffers a serious wound in war might need help with certain physical actions (like carrying things in arms) without that challenge affecting other aspects of physical life (like walking).
Notably, like many traditional, outwardly visible ailments, most mental illnesses do not preclude someone from accomplishing his or her work. A person with a broken leg may struggle to get to or from a workplace, but that person is usually able to accomplish tasks like accounting or bookkeeping without problems. Similarly, a person with depression or anxiety may be able to accomplish a whole range of occupations without problems. For this reason, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not distinguish between mental illness and traditional, outwardly visible physical illness.
Like seeing my family doctor for my traditional, outwardly visible health issues, since my divorce over a decade ago, I have regularly consulted with professionals to maintain my mental health. I currently receive help from Pathways Counseling Center in Ottawa. Pathways serves Putnam County and offers financial assistance for those who need it. Similar services are available in every county. In Allen and Auglaize counties, the Family Resource Center serves the same role. People do not recover from broken legs without medical assistance, and the same principle applies for mental illnesses, frequently depression and anxiety that are legitimate challenges in our communities.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.