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Advocacy Perspective

Mental Illness and a Lack of Productivity Data

Throughout my journey in finding Tech employment with my own illness, I came across a number of situations. Namely, most jobs available in Tech, for someone with a mental illness, are found via more accepting roles such as Engineering, Customer Support, and Design. No problem, right? Well, that requires a lot of moving levers. Sometimes you’re really not ready for work on a health and productivity level. Other times you’re ready, but employers aren’t ready. That’s a long time to wait to become productive. A couple of factors are important in my view:

  1. Level of openness about a mental illness (MI) to the hiring manager
  2. Ability to empathize and work with the person with the illness
  3. Remote work to limit stress and in workplace and productivity issues
  4. Being a good example so a someone else with a MI can thrive

Why are these important? At the end of the day, as a person with an illness, I went through as many examples and case laws I could find. Found that building a bridge of openness was necessary because of a few reasons:

  1. You’re potentially a workplace/team environment distraction
  2. You’re possibly a management headache (open or not open)
  3. Your health issue may limit your ability to be 100% productive

Now, I won’t go into the appropriate reasoning as to whether to disclose or not. That’s an individual’s choice to make and entirely based on their family, friends, life events, and prioritization on what is important for them.

Though, as a result, there just isn’t a lot of data available on openness on something like a mental illness in tech due to disclosure. Rationally, and under the American Disabilities Act, you shouldn’t need to disclose. Though, that doesn’t help as much in this day and age with hyper-connectivity and sharing. As the common idiom goes: “The Valley is small”. There isn’t a lot of open data about this either. So, to find a way to highlight this issue on a small level, did a data dig in Github for users that have “Mental health” and “Psych” in their profile.

Most accounts with “Psych” related to those who are Researchers and Data Scientists with either Psychology-related backgrounds or interests. Out of the 166,600 jobs in the US for Psychologists, the 1.6M+ Engineers in the United States (2016) and over 24M+ users of Github, these are paltry numbers. Even further, there’s 46.6M+ people with mental illnesses in the United States. The level of openness is astoundingly bad for a productivity platform such as Github compared to a conversation platform such as Twitter. To put it in perspective, in 2016, it’s 1 Github user that denotes “mental health” on their profile for every 40,000 engineers in the USA. What does that mean?

Not enough are looking at this issue and should be from a productivity perspective. That results in a lack of programs and awareness to determine what productivity is possible for sufferers. I’ve seen some/many programs that help in retraining on some level, but it’s not widespread and empowered. We’re washing away a large segment of society from being understood on what productivity looks like with mental illnesses. From one vantage point, you could consider it a human rights tragedy to be largely ignored and suffering without an ability to be open and productive. For example, Thomas Insel wrote that the lifetime economic burden of serious mental illness to individuals and society combined is nearly $250B, or approximately $1.85 million per patient in the United States. That’s awful.

We don’t know what’ll be uncovered by finding what’s happening on a day-to-day basis for life goals and ability to survive and/or thrive for people with mental illnesses. I do know that, at least, data will highlight problems, promote awareness, and improve decision making to further improve the situation and subject area. We need more open data and work about what’s really going on, in an aggregate level, in helping those with MI’s to not only get to healthy, but also help to get us/them to thrive in life.

If you know where I could find productivity and employment data for people with mental illnesses or want to connect, please contact on Twitter.

Dataset available here.