Why we’re challenging Sunday Times article featuring advice on how to weed out job candidates with ‘abnormal’ personalities
Rethink Mental Illness Media Team
Earlier this week, one of our activists got in touch with us to flag up an extremely worrying Sunday Times article about how employers should weed out potential new employees with a ‘dark-side’ or ‘abnormal’ personality traits. The newspaper headline alone (the online version has a different one) had us worried: ‘I’m sorry, he’s not a differently gifted worker – he’s a psycho’ but when we read the rest of it, we realised the headline was the least of our worries.
* * * Update 23rd June 2014 * * *
Professor Furnham has now given us clarification on the original article in response to our open letter in The Sunday Times. Click here to read his response
The piece is by Professor Furnham, who astonishingly, is a Professor of Psychology and gives advice on how to ‘spot these people at selection so you can reject them.’ We were gobsmacked.
Furnham is extremely vague about what kind of people he’s talking about, and doesn’t explicitly refer to people with a mental illness. Instead he talks about the ‘maladaptive personality’ and goes on to describe a range of ‘traits’ that these people have. However, many of those traits such as anxiety, depression, guilt and hallucinations are symptoms of mental illness.
We challenged Professor Furnham and his colleagues at UCL about the article and they say that it’s been misinterpreted. Their argument is that Furnham was not talking about mental illness, but ‘normal personality traits’.
Now we’d really like to give Professor Furnham the benefit of the doubt and accept that he did not intend to say that people with mental health problems should be rejected from job applications, but sadly, that is the strong impression his article gave. Whether he’s been misinterpreted is to an extent, beside the point.
As a Professor of Psychology, Furnham should be acutely aware of the huge stigma that people with mental illness face, especially at work. To write about such a sensitive area and fail to make it explicitly clear that he was not saying people with mental illness should be discriminated against, is careless to say the least. He also made no attempt to acknowledge the huge stigma people who do have mental health problems, face in the workplace.
With views like this being expressed in the national media, it’s no surprise that two out of three workers say that if they were diagnosed with schizophrenia, they would keep it hidden from their boss.
We are very grateful to the activist who brought this to our attention and have teamed up with a number of the mental health organisations including Mind to write a response, which we hope will be printed in this week’s Sunday Times.
We’d like Professor Furnham to publicly clarify the intention behind his article, clear up any misunderstanding and apologise for the upset he has caused. As a Professor of Psychology, we feel he should be working to break down mental health stigma, not contributing to it.
While we always encourage healthy debate, we are in no way encouraging anyone to personally attack Professor Furnham on social media. As mental health campaigners we should always be mindful of everyone’s mental health and a deluge of criticism on Twitter can be very distressing. Let’s make sure we keep the debate firmly focussed on the issues, not the person.
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