HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, November 29, 2004

New Article on ADA and Mental Illness

If you find that you have some spare time on your hands (i.e., perhaps the thought of drafting your exam is too much after a lovely Thanksgiving break),  you may want to review  Elizabeth Emen's interesting article, "The Sympathetic Discriminator: Mental Illness and the ADA."  She examines the fact that individuals with mental illness often experience discrimination because others (including fellow co-workers) often feel negative emotions around them.   She contends that an open recognition of that emotional costs will help the courts better understand the tension in the ADA when applied to mentally disabled individuals and promote a less contradictory application of the ADA to those individuals. 

A portion of the abstract follows: 

"Discrimination against people with mental illness occurs in part because of how those with mental illness can make other people feel. A psychotic person may make others feel agitated or afraid, for example, or a depressed person may make others feel sad or frustrated. Thus, a central basis for discrimination in this context is what I call hedonic costs. Hedonic costs are affective or emotional costs: an influx of negative emotion or loss of positive emotion. In addition, the phenomenon of emotional contagion, which is one source of hedonic costs, makes discrimination against people with mental illness peculiarly intractable. Emotional contagion is a largely unconscious process by which we absorb the emotions of nearby others. Research on emotional contagion indicates that people with mental illness are likely to prompt others to absorb their negative emotions, and that emotional contagion increases the more we like someone. Contrary to the much-vaunted contact hypothesis that workplace integration increases liking and decreases discriminatory animus, then, integration of people with mental illness may instead give coworkers and employers more reason to want to avoid people with mental illness."

The full article is available on the SSRN website and will be appearing in the Georgetown Law Journal next year.


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