Dear Therapist:

I am a teenaged girl, popular, with a lot of personality, if I do say so myself. I’m the kind of girl who is the life of the party, and enjoys making the fun for the group, trying to make sure all are included at the same time. I applied for a staff position at a camp that is very excited to have me but got stuck on the application itself. I have a mild case of anxiety and am prescribed Zoloft. (They asked for additional information on the form, including any chronic conditions and medications.) Now I understand that I need to discuss with a rov [rabbi] what I am and am not required to disclose. But I wonder if you thought that this type of information should impact a camp’s decision at all. Does this in anyway preclude someone from being a good staff member? 

 

Response:

My instinctive response to your first question is that these factors should have absolutely no bearing on the camp’s decision. Your anxiety is something that you deal with. It sounds like the camp is excited to have you on the basis of who you are. This includes all aspects of the way in which you present yourself to others. You may have anxiety, but any impression that others form of who you are necessarily includes any effects of the anxiety. Therefore, the anxiety diagnosis itself would seem to be immaterial.

Have you thought about the reason that the camp asks about chronic conditions and medications? This may be largely a function of liability concerns. They need to understand the medical needs of the people for whom they will be responsible. I don’t know whether there are other considerations, but if you know and trust someone in the camp you may be able to get a sense of this.

I would like to believe that people in a position of power are well-informed and experienced enough to have a clear understanding of so common an issue as anxiety. In general, emotional issues are much more in the public domain than ever before. Anxiety specifically is something with which we can all identify. We all experience some form of anxiety, whether it can be categorized as a clinical disorder or not. The difference between “normal anxiety” and an anxiety disorder can be very slim—and in fact arbitrary.

As emotional issues have become more mainstream and better understood, medication use has followed suit. Most people today are themselves on medication or know someone who is. The stigma that used to be attached to psychiatric medication is continually decreasing.

Let us consider two girls who apply for the same job in a camp. One girl has mild anxiety, but will not consider treatment. She avoids certain situations, and at times she freezes or has other adverse reactions. The second girl has the same personality and issues. The only difference between the other girl and her is that she is in treatment, on medication, and is learning how to properly deal with her anxiety. Clearly the second girl is the one who is less likely to be negatively affected by her anxiety.

The idea that being on medication for mild anxiety should affect the camp’s decision seems unreasonable. Their concerns should be simply your ability to do the job. As discussed, their perception of you is based on the factors that are visible—and any effects of your anxiety are included in that perception.

You also asked whether anxiety can preclude someone from being a good staff member in a camp. This question can be extrapolated both to other issues and to other circumstances. Can someone with OCD, for instance, be a successful businessman? Can a person with Asperger’s Disorder do a good job in a law firm? Of course, the point is that these diagnoses are only one aspect of the person’s existence. Depending on the way in which it is experienced and dealt with, it can have positive or negative effects.

For example, it is possible that your efficacy as a counselor would be detrimentally affected by your anxiety due to trouble in social situations. Or your anxiety might make you a better counselor because of your sensitivity to emotional issues. Therefore, anxiety is like anything else; it has advantages and disadvantages. You should not be defined by your anxiety any more than by your hair color.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Woodmere, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200