Mental illness stigma and employer evaluation in hiring: Stereotypes, discrimination and the role of experience
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Mental illness stigma can constitute a significant barrier to entering employment. Drawing on 20 interviews with Norwegian employers, this article investigates how mental illness stigma affects employer evaluation of jobseekers who disclose a history of mental illness. It also explores how employers use accounts of their previous experience with employees with mental illness in their evaluations. Prior to the interviews, the employers received pairs of fictitious applications in which one of the candidates disclosed a history of mental illness. Thus, the interview data were paired with behavioural data on how the employers responded to mental illness disclosure in a genuine recruitment situation. The analysis reveals common stereotypes of people with mental illness as fragile and unreliable. Furthermore, discriminating and inclusive employers are juxtaposed in their approach to mental health stigma, characterised by either taboo and avoidance or empathetic dialogue. The findings indicate how negative experience is coupled with negative attitudes and behaviour and how positive experience is coupled with positive attitudes and behaviour. A central argument is that experience is something that employers play an active part in constructing by choosing to either engage or not engage in a two-way dialogue with employees struggling with mental illness.