Most Americans spend the bulk of their waking hours at work. Some say that Americans’ “best” hours are given to their employers. If workers like their jobs and/or workplace, they can accept that reality without a fight. Yet, when employees find themselves working with really difficult people, life at work can be extra trying or downright exasperating!
Why certain people are “really difficult” isn’t always clear. It’s true that some people are simply annoying or interpersonally inept. However, some difficult coworkers may be legitimately mentally ill and in need of professional intervention.
Consider that, according to the National Association of Mental Health, incidences of mental illness in the workplace are not uncommon. The NAMH reports that an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. For example, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a mental illness that can be well managed when treated properly, occurs in 4% of American adults and mood disorders including Major Depression, Mania and Bi Polar Disorder occur in 9.5% of American adults, all of which can trigger undesirable behaviors in workers. Likewise, certain Personality Disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), can cause the sufferers to demonstrate symptoms remarkably similar to the personal traits of someone who is simply obnoxious.
Based on the statistics above, it’s not at all unlikely that at some point we may find ourselves working side by side with a person who is clinically mentally ill. Differentiating between clinical symptoms and personal traits can be tricky; only a licensed therapist or a medical doctor should be diagnosing mental illness. Recognizing the difference between people with legitimate Personality Disorders and people with chronic “Jerk-itis” is a bit tougher; you have to know what you’re looking for.
How can workers tell the difference between someone who needs mental help and a garden variety jerk?
Borderline Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
It’s important to note that other medical problems can cause coworkers to behave in ways that are unusual and concerning or annoying and obnoxious. Brain tumors, head injuries, medication side-effects, hormonal imbalances, and stress can all trigger troublesome behaviors. So it’s important that employers and employees alike not jump to conclusions when suspecting a fellow worker is suffering from a mental illness. If, however, you suspect mental illness in a coworker, worker or boss, you need to determine if you can or want to handle the challenges presented when working with that person. Keep in mind the following:
If the employee acknowledges that there is a problem, help him make a plan for recovery and/or symptom management. Talk about some job-related goals the employee can tackle once the disorder is under control. When a troubled employee has something to look forward to, he or she is more likely to follow through on getting necessary treatment.
One last thought workers may want to ponder: if one is currently sane but working in a crazy environment, it may only be a matter of time before he himself becomes mentally ill, or quite possibly, becomes a jerk! It’s better to face the problem head on than expect it to go away on its own because, without help, mental illness gets progressively worse over time. And of course, left unchecked, jerk-like behavior will continue to serve as an energy vacuum in your workplace.
By Barbara Jaurequi, MS, LMFT, MAC
Barbara Jaurequi, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Nationally Certified Master Addiction Counselor, speaks on a variety of personal and professional topics and is the author of A.C.E.S. – Adult-Child Entitlement Syndrome, available on Amazon and other online booksellers. A.C.E.S. teaches parents of adult-children how to compassionately launch their adult-children into the world of personal responsibility in a straight-forward step-by-step approach. Contact Ms. Jaurequi by email at [email protected] or phone her office at 909-944-6611.