Employers’ expectation of reliability of performance and regularity of attendance can be at odds with the unreliability and irregularity of mental health illness symptoms and episodes. This leaves the mental health illness symptom sufferer who wishes and needs to work with difficulty finding suitable work. This is even more the case with someone, such as the writer of the blog-post linked below who lacks qualifications and a consistent work history and, therefore, references.
As the writer, who lives in Australia, discusses, there is a limit to how open a mental illness sufferer can be with an employer: “If the panel knew that my mental health had caused me to abruptly leave a job, that my anxiety about answering the phone meant I wouldn’t be able to be very good at the job they were interviewing me for, that my depression could flare up at any moment and would put me at serious risk of abruptly leaving the position, they wouldn’t have hired me.”
Yet, for some, ‘hiding’ severe illness is not a feasible option. The writer describes the second breakdown she suffered during her previous employment, causing her to leave for good: “Those negative thoughts, the feelings of being overwhelmed, and not good enough, started to bubble beneath the surface. They came back. It felt like all the progress I had made was futile. That this was just going to happen over and over again, and I would never be able to function like everyone else. Like I was in a hamster wheel and kept falling off.”
Now without work, social security has been made inaccessible for her: “The stress of applying for government help negates whatever my earnings would be. I have been and done that, and I have no desire to be treated like that again, even if it means living on the streets. Moreover, she wants to work, to feel purposeful – and to help support her partner, who is working.
Being out of work, the writer says, is like not buying milk. When she made her second suicide attempt, she intentionally had not bought milk. The writer describes needing employment on her terms – to fit around her mental health illness symptoms and that “could wait, just for a little bit” when she felt ill.
Reform of the job market is needed to provide more meaningful and secure work for those who suffer mental health illnesses. The benefits for employers will be dedicated workers with potential to grow and develop. Whilst freelance and zero hours working suggest flexibility, the reality of such precarious work, including, no or limited of sick pay, is very different. As with sick pay and all other worker rights, dignified and stable work for severe mental health illness sufferers will only be achieved through worker solidarity, organisation and activism.
To read the full blog-post, Buying the Milk, click below: