For the millions of Americans who suffer from mental illness, life is just as difficult for those who have physical conditions. Worse than the struggle with the sickness itself and its symptoms is the way people who behave differently are looked at and treated.
According to a 2014 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 60 percent of people receiving treatment for mental illness want to get and keep a job, but only 20 percent of people being treated actually have work.
While most people know someone who has suffered from mental illness, this doesn’t always equal real tolerance.
To see just how a person with mental illness trying to get a job would be treated, ABC reporter John Quinones took his candid camera show What Would You Do? to a popular restaurant, The Colonial Diner, in Woodbury, New Jersey. The setup was simple.
A young male actor portrayed a waiter struggling with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), which affects 2.2 million adults across the United States according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Two young female customers were seated in his section and complained about his slow service, nervousness, and reluctance to pick up cutlery touched by other people.People with OCD suffer from obsessive thoughts, which they don’t want to have but can’t easily dismiss.
They then have compulsive behaviors in response to the thoughts, such as needing to perform actions over and over again or being unable to relax until they have finished their routine.
In the case of the Colonial Diner, the waiter gets flustered by the customers and keeps discarding pages from the order pad that aren’t perfectly filled in. As time goes on, the two customers begin to criticize and attack him.
“What’s wrong with you?” one of them asks him. “So, you have a mental illness or you’re crazy, what exactly is going on?” says the other. The insults escalate as the diners question his right to have the job.
The other customers in the restaurant step in in a big way to defend the waiter. A woman who used to work as a waiter steps in to help the young man take the order, while her husband points out that they could have left or gone to another section “instead of insulting him.”
Meanwhile, a woman in another booth watching the whole encounter bursts into tears and walks out. It turns out that she suffers from OCD and knows exactly how the waiter felt.
As she tells Quinones, she wants everyone to know that people with mental illness are regular people. “We go to work, we have kids. It’s no lesser than any disease of the body, it’s just a disease of the brain.” Her message to the frustrated and rude customers was straightforward.
“He just needs a little kindness, that’s all.”
In one of the most moving interactions, a woman and her mother both come to the defense of the harassed waiter. When the manager comes out and the angry diners suggest that he should be fired, they step in.
“I would have no problem with him being my waiter,” says the daughter.
At the end of the show, their message goes right to the heart of the situation. “It just takes tolerance. We all have to understand that we’re all different.”