Mental Health Stigma in Georgia
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||18 November 2011|
|Citation / Document Symbol||CRS Issue 618|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Mental Health Stigma in Georgia, 18 November 2011, CRS Issue 618, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ece3dbc5.html [accessed 24 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Georgians with a past record of mental problems struggle to find a job, and often have to lie about their medical history to land even the most menial job.
Employers are reluctant to risk taking on someone who has been mentally ill, and the only route into a job seems to be the small number of workplaces supported by charities.
When Maia, 32, applied for a job at a supermarket in Tbilisi, she found herself facing a question on the application form asking whether she had any chronic condition. Desperate for work, she lied.
"In reality, I have a psychological condition," said Maia, who asked IWPR not to disclose her full name. "Although I've been through a course of treatment, and I've recovered and become able to work, that doesn't mean anything in this society. The stigma is so great that former patients have to lie to their employers."
Maia works as a cleaner in the supermarket, earning 200 laris, 120 US dollars, a month and lives in constant fear the manager will discover her secret and dismiss her.
"If I get sacked, then I'll be out on the street like dozens of others who have lost their job because of their psychological problems, and despite undergoing successful treatment," she said.
Psychiatrist Manana Sharashidze said her patients often faced a dilemma about whether to disclose their history.
"Sadly, patients frequently conceal the fact that they've had psychological problems, otherwise no one will give them a job," she said. "We want this to stop being a problem, and to let businessmen know how well [such people] can work."
Sharashidze heads Georgia's Association for Psychological Health, and is coordinator of the PsychoSocial Centre, a place where people can go after treatment to learn new skills for the workplace.
Temur Iosebidze, a psychotherapist who teaches crafts at the centre, said participants "learn how to make things out of wood or felt, and how to embroider and knit, to such a high standard that their products sell for good prices."
Such is the popular view of mental illness that Iosibidze believes many people only buy the handicrafts because they are unaware who made them. "If it wasn't for that, no one would buy their work," he said.
Iosibidze acknowledged that giving people skills did not mean they were going to be accepted by prospective employers, and said the centre had little success in approaching companies to place people in work.
He said employers wanted firm guarantees that someone they hired would not develop problems and start taking time off. "That's is absurd – how can I give a guarantee that someone won't get flu or break a leg?"
Sharashidze said the PsychoSocial Centre had thought up imaginative ways to meet employers' demands.
"We offered large companies a scheme under which if our beneficiaries were unable to come to work because of their psychological condition… they would be replaced by another patient or by a social worker who works with them," she said, noting that no one had taken up this offer.
"Work is very important to these people," Sharashidze said. "They want an income of their own, not just to live on state hand-outs."
Of the 1,500 people with a history of mental illness who have attended back-to-work in the last five years, a mere nine have got into formal employment. And all nine were taken on in posts funded by the charity organisation Caritas, for example in Panetteria, a pizza house it supports as a job-creation scheme.
"That is a very clear statistic which shows the difficulties [former] patients face when seeking work," Sharashidze said. "It's obvious that in a country with very high unemployment, we should be under no illusions that such people are going to be in demand on the labour market, but right now there are no social programmes where they can work."
Despite the resistance it faces, the PsychoSocial Centre is continuing to try to build contacts with businesses and political leader.
"We meet the heads of companies and their HR departments and try to explain to them that these people aren't dangerous, they make good employees," the centre's director Archil Begiashvili said.
The Tbilisi mayor's office has expressed interest in doing what it can.
Keti Kajrishvili of the city's social support service said it would place people on the unemployment register without mentioning their status.
"If the [PsychoSocial] Centre gives us a list of the people it has treated, we will put them in the database," she said, adding that it would be up to individuals whether they wanted to disclose their health issues to future employers.
The centre is currently supported by foreign donors, but Kajrishvili indicated that the city authorities were considering funding it to create an organisation where people could work.
Fati Mamiashvili works for the Rustavi-2 broadcasting company.