Mental health and employment


Last year one of my children was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I have two boys.

He was just about to complete Year 12. He’d noticed for some years that his social interaction skills and the way he viewed the world were increasingly out of step with his peers and that he felt different.

Getting a diagnosis was a shock to both of us, but in time, became a relief for him, offering a much needed explanation for so many parts of his life’s journey.

Fortunately, it doesn’t mean he has trouble with his studies and I don’t expect he will strike difficulty in pursuing a university degree next year.

However, as a mother I fear for his employment prospects when he graduates because social interaction is such a big part of employability, regardless of success as a student.

The matter came strikingly to mind today because I’m conscious that we are in the middle of Mental Health Week, and I was struck that for the first time it’s a week that touches my life directly.

I’m not alone, of course, because a quick check on Google reveals that one in five Australians suffer from a mental illness either permanently or at some time in their lives. That’s more than four million Australians.

The other way it affects me directly is because the organisation I head up has undertaken recent research into the issue of disability employment and the picture is not a pretty one.

We surveyed 678 HR practitioners in a 2011 study on disability employment, with mental illness being one of a number of disabilities.

Nearly a quarter of respondents to the study whose organisations had not employed a person with a disability believe there is a workplace perception that such a person would not perform as well as a person without a disability, and that such a person would also be high risk and potentially expensive.

Another third of respondents were unsure about the perceptions in their organisation on those questions.

If those estimates of perceptions by HR professionals are reliable, that makes only around 40 per cent of employees positively disposed on the matter.

And of the 60 per cent who are negative or non-committal, the study reveals a number are CEOs, senior executives or line managers who put the issue in the too hard basket and would not appreciate an HR manager proposing a person with a disability for employment in the organisation, regardless of the person’s qualifications.

Not surprisingly, almost half of the study respondents believe those perceptions have a negative impact or are the main barrier preventing employment of people with a disability.

And some of the qualitative comments put mental illness in the bottom category because of what are seen as behavioural problems associated with that category of disability.

Our research, of course, was a study of perceptions rather than hard numbers of people being employed.

But those numbers are not a pretty picture either, with around 800,000 Australians registered in the labour market as having a physical or mental disability but not being able to find employment.

The number of job seekers drawing on welfare in that category was around 800,000 at the time when Peter Costello’s welfare to work budget was handed down in 2004, and it’s still around the same number in 2012.

Among that number are a great many Australians who are able, willing and qualified to join the workforce.

Many are supported in getting job-ready by government programs, but are unable to get their foot in the door for a job.

The constant refrain is that employers only see a disability, not knowledge, skills or attitude  –  so perception is a key issue.

That is not all the fault of employers, I should add.

The issue is a serious matter with respect to the Australian economy and social inclusion: the government knows that, business knows that, yet the issue is not out there as you might expect it to be so employers are often not aware of it and they are in large part not put under pressure to own it.

It is widely believed that having a job gives all of us a sense of dignity and self-respect, and Australians with a mental or physical disability are no different.

The former chairman of the Future Fund, David Murray, spoke on television last week about the urgency of reducing Australia’s welfare bill and fixing our lagging productivity problem.

He even suggested that failing to do so will send us on the track that ends in a Greek or Irish economic train wreck.

While that may be a bridge too far, it is plain that employing Australians with a mental or physical disability who are keen to work will deal with both of those issues.

Fewer Australians will draw on welfare and more Australians will be productive and pay taxes.

But it’s not happening. Why not?

Lyn Goodear is the interim chief executive officer of the Australian Human Resources Institute.

 

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Peter Harvey
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Peter Harvey

Hi Lyn, Thank you for starting the discussion. As I sit at my computer one of my sons has just returned from work….the first job he has had in a very long time due to his mental illness. It was only a month or so ago that my wife and I came to the conclusion that due to his mental illness (anxiety disorder & depression) he would never work as he struggles to even leave the house, let alone meet new people. On the flip side he is intelligent and hard working. So we hope his new employers will see… Read more »

Jan
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Jan

As an HR Manager with a medium sized company, I feel very sympathetic to the problems faced by people with mental illness. The issues as I have experienced are: 1. The person wants to be treated as normal, and feels ashamed so is too afraid to confide so they can receive support. This includes disclosing to team mates as well as managers & HR. What is the point of doing training with staff if noone will disclose? 2. The way in which supported employment tops up their salary is not structured so as they can afford to work part-time, especially… Read more »

http://www.medifastdoctors.com/articles.html
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http://www.medifastdoctors.com/articles.html

Hey there! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with SEO?
I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not
seeing very good gains. If you know of any please share. Thank you!

Jo Auerbach
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Jo Auerbach

I have read your article and comments with interest. There is no doubt that mental illness carried a stigma, perhaps buttressed by the more severe cases of mental illness that Jan and Peter describe, the sort that are difficult to hide. But as Lyn point out, 1 in 5 Australians will suffer a mental illness some time in their lives (I have read papers which suggest that the statistic is more like 1 in 4!) and so there are literally millions of Australians who suffer from mental illness, and who are successful in their jobs and lives – you just… Read more »

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Mental health and employment


Last year one of my children was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I have two boys.

He was just about to complete Year 12. He’d noticed for some years that his social interaction skills and the way he viewed the world were increasingly out of step with his peers and that he felt different.

Getting a diagnosis was a shock to both of us, but in time, became a relief for him, offering a much needed explanation for so many parts of his life’s journey.

Fortunately, it doesn’t mean he has trouble with his studies and I don’t expect he will strike difficulty in pursuing a university degree next year.

However, as a mother I fear for his employment prospects when he graduates because social interaction is such a big part of employability, regardless of success as a student.

The matter came strikingly to mind today because I’m conscious that we are in the middle of Mental Health Week, and I was struck that for the first time it’s a week that touches my life directly.

I’m not alone, of course, because a quick check on Google reveals that one in five Australians suffer from a mental illness either permanently or at some time in their lives. That’s more than four million Australians.

The other way it affects me directly is because the organisation I head up has undertaken recent research into the issue of disability employment and the picture is not a pretty one.

We surveyed 678 HR practitioners in a 2011 study on disability employment, with mental illness being one of a number of disabilities.

Nearly a quarter of respondents to the study whose organisations had not employed a person with a disability believe there is a workplace perception that such a person would not perform as well as a person without a disability, and that such a person would also be high risk and potentially expensive.

Another third of respondents were unsure about the perceptions in their organisation on those questions.

If those estimates of perceptions by HR professionals are reliable, that makes only around 40 per cent of employees positively disposed on the matter.

And of the 60 per cent who are negative or non-committal, the study reveals a number are CEOs, senior executives or line managers who put the issue in the too hard basket and would not appreciate an HR manager proposing a person with a disability for employment in the organisation, regardless of the person’s qualifications.

Not surprisingly, almost half of the study respondents believe those perceptions have a negative impact or are the main barrier preventing employment of people with a disability.

And some of the qualitative comments put mental illness in the bottom category because of what are seen as behavioural problems associated with that category of disability.

Our research, of course, was a study of perceptions rather than hard numbers of people being employed.

But those numbers are not a pretty picture either, with around 800,000 Australians registered in the labour market as having a physical or mental disability but not being able to find employment.

The number of job seekers drawing on welfare in that category was around 800,000 at the time when Peter Costello’s welfare to work budget was handed down in 2004, and it’s still around the same number in 2012.

Among that number are a great many Australians who are able, willing and qualified to join the workforce.

Many are supported in getting job-ready by government programs, but are unable to get their foot in the door for a job.

The constant refrain is that employers only see a disability, not knowledge, skills or attitude  –  so perception is a key issue.

That is not all the fault of employers, I should add.

The issue is a serious matter with respect to the Australian economy and social inclusion: the government knows that, business knows that, yet the issue is not out there as you might expect it to be so employers are often not aware of it and they are in large part not put under pressure to own it.

It is widely believed that having a job gives all of us a sense of dignity and self-respect, and Australians with a mental or physical disability are no different.

The former chairman of the Future Fund, David Murray, spoke on television last week about the urgency of reducing Australia’s welfare bill and fixing our lagging productivity problem.

He even suggested that failing to do so will send us on the track that ends in a Greek or Irish economic train wreck.

While that may be a bridge too far, it is plain that employing Australians with a mental or physical disability who are keen to work will deal with both of those issues.

Fewer Australians will draw on welfare and more Australians will be productive and pay taxes.

But it’s not happening. Why not?

Lyn Goodear is the interim chief executive officer of the Australian Human Resources Institute.

 

9
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  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Peter Harvey
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Peter Harvey

Hi Lyn, Thank you for starting the discussion. As I sit at my computer one of my sons has just returned from work….the first job he has had in a very long time due to his mental illness. It was only a month or so ago that my wife and I came to the conclusion that due to his mental illness (anxiety disorder & depression) he would never work as he struggles to even leave the house, let alone meet new people. On the flip side he is intelligent and hard working. So we hope his new employers will see… Read more »

Jan
Guest
Jan

As an HR Manager with a medium sized company, I feel very sympathetic to the problems faced by people with mental illness. The issues as I have experienced are: 1. The person wants to be treated as normal, and feels ashamed so is too afraid to confide so they can receive support. This includes disclosing to team mates as well as managers & HR. What is the point of doing training with staff if noone will disclose? 2. The way in which supported employment tops up their salary is not structured so as they can afford to work part-time, especially… Read more »

http://www.medifastdoctors.com/articles.html
Guest
http://www.medifastdoctors.com/articles.html

Hey there! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with SEO?
I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not
seeing very good gains. If you know of any please share. Thank you!

Jo Auerbach
Guest
Jo Auerbach

I have read your article and comments with interest. There is no doubt that mental illness carried a stigma, perhaps buttressed by the more severe cases of mental illness that Jan and Peter describe, the sort that are difficult to hide. But as Lyn point out, 1 in 5 Australians will suffer a mental illness some time in their lives (I have read papers which suggest that the statistic is more like 1 in 4!) and so there are literally millions of Australians who suffer from mental illness, and who are successful in their jobs and lives – you just… Read more »

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