Mental illness yet to break through prejudiced barriers

by Stephanie Zillman09 Oct 2012

Employers and HR may be too quick to write off people who have experienced mental illness as unsuitable for employment despite their strength as a candidate, an investigation has found.

Research by not-for-profit employment services provider WISE Employment found that only one in three employers in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) would hire a person with a mental illness. Questions about their reliability and whether they would be a disruption rated as chief concerns.

Yet given one in five Australians are affected by mental illness every year, employers and HR must do more to break down the stigma associated with mental illness – and this is the aim of Mental Health Week which is currently underway (7-13 October). A primary goal is to break through a lack of understanding in the community, which unfairly fuels prejudice and causes some employers to shy away from hiring people with mental illness, Matthew Lambelle from WISE Employment commented. “The research reveals an underlying assumption among employers that mental illness will inhibit job performance, when in fact the two are not linked. A person with a mental illness can be the best person for the job,” Lambelle said.

A key factor which can be the difference between hiring someone with a mental illness or not is whether employers have access to outside support, the research found.

Overall research observations included:

  • 32% of those surveyed indicated that in the future they would be likely to employ a person with a mental illness, compared to 46% for someone with a physical disability.
  • 33% were neutral on the topic of employing a person with a mental illness in the future, and 35% indicated they were unlikely to.
  • 61% of respondents indicated that the organisation for which they work does not have a policy regarding the employment of people with a disability.
  • Of the organisations that had at some stage employed someone with a mental illness, the most popular reasons for having employed them were ‘because they were the best candidate for the job’ (55%) and ‘to give someone a chance that might not otherwise get one’ (55%).  
  • 74% of people who had employed a person with a mental illness described the experience as positive or very positive.
  • Just 21% of respondents were aware of any types of support available to organisations that choose to hire a person with a mental illness.

For a list of support services and community groups click here.


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  • by Lynn 9/10/2012 2:41:50 PM

    In most cases we shouldn't even be aware that a person is or was suffering from a mental illness. Perhaps we could stop calling it 'mental illness' because that in itself results in a stigma.

  • by Jodie 9/10/2012 4:21:29 PM

    I had an employee diagnosed with bi-polar. I felt completely out of my depth. I didn't know how to manage the situation when his condition got the better out of him. I was very anxious about the effect on the other team members.

    Managers need education to feel more confident about hiring known sufferers of mental illness.

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