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Employers concerned about hiring mentally ill people

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With improved support, employers might decide to hire someone with a mental illness

People with mental health issues are being held back from work because of employers’ fears, according to mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness.

The survey of 500 hiring decision makers or influencers found that 83% would worry that someone with a severe mental illness would not be able to cope with the demands of their job. Two-thirds (68%) were concerned that someone with a severe mental illness would not fit in with the rest of their team, and three-quarters (74%) suspected someone with a severe mental illness would need to take lots of time off.

The charity said that this adds to the barrier keeping people with mental illnesses out of the workplace. According to NHS statistics only 43% of all people with mental health problems are in employment, compared to 74% of the general population. For some conditions the employment rate is even lower; for example just 8% of people with schizophrenia are currently in work (as revealed by previous Rethink Mental Illness research).

However, the research found that with improved support employers might decide to hire someone with a mental illness. More than half (56%) said that they would be more likely to employ someone if they felt better equipped to support them, for example through training.

Brian Dow, director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness, said employers should be better informed when it comes to mental health issues. “These figures show us that the vast majority of managers still have cold feet when it comes to employing people with mental illness,” he said. “No wonder many people with mental illnesses feel like they’re pushing against a locked door when it comes to employment. Prejudice and confusion are keeping people who are well enough and want to work out of employment.”

Rethink Mental Illness suggested employers provide quiet areas in the office to allow staff to hot desk during periods of stress, and that they permit flexible working hours to accommodate appointments with GPs or therapists.

“Employing people with mental illness is not as fraught or complex as people seem to think,” added Dow. “Often the adjustments people need are easy and don’t cost anything, like flexible working, quiet areas and wellbeing plans.”