Employers, Don't Write Off Those With Experience Of Mental Ill Health

12/10/2017 17:57 BST | Updated 12/10/2017 17:58 BST
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Imagine breaking a leg and losing your job because of it.

Then imagine that broken leg leaving a stain on your CV, preventing you from competitively applying for employment in the future.

It just wouldn't happen.

But it happens every day to those who have experienced mental ill health.

I was a 23-year-old trainee accountant when I was first diagnosed with depression and shortly after that I lost my job. There was a long period of time then where I resided at rock bottom and became acquainted with the despair, bleakness and loss of hope that comes with that.

Eventually, I crawled out of that abyss and felt ready to return to work, armed though, with a gaping hole in my CV. With hindsight, I can see what courage that took. Depression had ravaged who I was and it was with fear, trepidation and a lack of self-worth that I tentatively put my CV forward for job vacancies.

It didn't take long for the gap in my CV became a moralistic one; lie about it or tell the truth. A pattern soon emerged. In the interviews where I was honest about the reasons I'd been off work for so long; the door was firmly shut in my face. Yet in the interviews where I lied, I was offered the job. The job roles were all for similar roles in similar organisations and I was qualified for the role.

It's true that it could be coincidence and it's true that maybe I just wasn't a good 'fit' for their organisation but it's also true that 74% of people with a mental health problem for more than a year are out of work and that 49% of workers would not be comfortable disclosing a mental health issue at work.

Fast forward to now and I am the leader of a team which includes people with experiences of mental ill health and let me tell you this; their talent overflows, as does their compassion, commitment and integrity. These are people who would possibly - nah, let's be honest, they'd probably be overlooked by employers if they dared to be honest about their health.

And that's such a farce.

In overlooking those who have been unfortunate enough to experience mental ill health, you are overlooking a diverse, talented, gritty, dedicated pool of people. Those who would strengthen any team, any workplace, with their lack of stigma and open ears - for there is nobody quite as willing to dive in and hold the hands of those who are suffering, as those who have been there.

Cultivating a culture where wellbeing is at the forefront isn't even hard, it's really not. It's about remembering that people are people; they're complex, differing in their needs, have feelings and have challenges. It's about allowing flexitime so that employees can balance their health and personal needs, with the fulfilment and satisfaction of being present and commitment to their jobs when they're at work. It's about encouraging good boundaries between work and their personal life; leading the way in removing emails from smartphones and encouraging them to take their annual leave. It's about kick-starting conversations about mental health so that it's normal to talk about it. After all, it's a sliding scale and we just never know who is suffering in silence. It's also about un-stiffening that upper lip and as leaders, letting our vulnerabilities show so that we open the door for others to do the same.

We all have mental health. Each and every one of us. Nobody is immune. As employers, we have a responsibility to stop with the token gestures which benefit no-one, but to make meaningful changes - which not only benefit those we employ, but us too.

Jayne Hardy is the Founder of The Blurt Foundation and the Author of The Self-Care Project