In New South Wales, people with disabilities are (supposedly) protected under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Employers are forbidden to explicitly deny a candidate’s application due to disability.
Despite this, people with disabilities face barriers to employment. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as people without disabilities (10% vs 4.6%)
People with mental illnesses struggle to find work
It’s not just people with physical or neurological developmental disorders that face an uphill battle. According to Lauren Ahwan in the Herald Sun, people with mental illnesses face barriers to employment.
People with mental illnesses, including major depressive disorder, anxiety and post – traumatic stress disorder are twice as likely to be unemployed than the general population.
During the pandemic, there was an increased awareness of mental illnesses, especially depression. However, according to Australian College of Applied Professions senior lecturer, Timothy Hsi:
Mental illness is still seen as a weakness.
Most people are trying to be very optimistic and accepting, but in the back of minds of employers, they still think ‘Is this mental health condition going to affect (an employee’s ability to work)?Timothy Tsi to Herald Sun,
Tsi argues that people with mental conditions can be just as productive as anyone else.
Employers could be making their candidate pool small
Every now and then, you hear employers who are crying out for more workers. Vacancies aren’t being filled.
Yet, they are making their candidate pool smaller. Last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported:
- More than 40% (43.7%) of Australians aged 16 to 85 have experienced a mental illness in their lifetime
- More than one in five (21.4%) had a 12-month mental illness
- Anxiety disorders were the most common
- Almost two fifths (39.6%) of 16 to 24 had a 12 – month mental disorder.
Few things: these statistics only reflect people who admit they have a condition. The ABS data can’t include those who aren’t diagnosed or are in denial.
These statistics don’t predict the future. Anyone’s mental health can go south at any point. In 2019, journalistand author, Allastair Campbell made an eye – opening point:
We use these figures ‘1 in 4 will be mentally ill at some point in their lives’. 1 in 1 of us has got mental health and it’s never perfectAllastair Campbell on Q and A, 22 July 2019
How to find an employer if you have a mental illness
If you do suffer a mental illness and are looking for work, Hsi advises:
- Choose an employer who is supportive of people with mental illnesses
- Present yourself at your best. It may be a good idea to practice relaxation techniques to avoid stumbling in interviews
- If you need to, appoint a friend or support person nearby or to be in the room with you.
People are assets, not liabilities
In Australia, employers are expected to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate for people with disablities. I think we should change this mentality.
Employers should consider what candidates with disabilities and/ or mental illnesses can add to their company. I think we emphasise too much on what employers need to do to accommodate people. This probably employers hesitant.
So what can people with mental illnesses/ disabilities add to a workplace?
- People with mental illnesses can be very empathetic. This is great for the employer, colleagues and customers/ clients
- People with mental illnesses are very resilient. For example, according to Mimdful Meggie, people who have been treated for obsessive compulsive disorder can be more resilient and face adversity head-on
When we talk about employment and people with mental illnesses, strength, not liabilities should be the focus. Imagine a workplace that fosters more empathy and resilience. If that doesn’t make a better business, I don’t know what does.
What do you think? What can be done to decrease employment discrimination against people with disabilities or mental illnesses? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.