"Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly." -Albert Einstein

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Time for some honesty about unemployment and mental illness

This is from across the pond, but really, is it any different from your community?  I think "well, it's hard for everyone to find work", then I'm plagued by my own self-assessment: is it maybe just my perspective? Is there something I'm doing or saying that prevents me from being a candidate for work?


As anyone who watched last night's Panorama will know, the current work programme is, ironically, not working for people  with mental illness. Neither did the Pathways to work programme that preceded it. Nor the New Deal for Disabled People that came before that.

Why? Because none of these programmes were honest about unemployment and mental illness. The reality is that it's a classic ''wicked problem'', with many different causes. We need to address all the causes to really solve it.

People do need individual support, training and career advice. Many mental health conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar start in people's early teens. It's not easy to fully engage in education if you're dealing with a mental health problem. So some extra training and vocational support later in life can really help.

But supporting individuals and providing training won't solve the problem on its own. People also need enough healthcare to treat both the symptoms and the causes of mental health problems. And that's just not happening - last year, the independent Schizophrenia Commission found that only a minority of people get all the treatments recommended by the health watchdog NICE.
If you left someone with diabetes without medication or dialysis, you wouldn't expect them to be able to work. But we are failing to provide both decent medication and cost-effective psychological therapies to people with mental illness and then asking them to go out and look for jobs.
Even if miraculously someone gets healthcare and appropriate vocational support, there is still the issue of employers' attitudes. It is a huge step forward that people no longer have to declare  mental health conditions on application forms, thanks to years of campaigning by Rethink Mental Illness members and staff.
But that doesn't mean that all employers understand what reasonable adjustments are in the workplace. How many employers would accept that someone needs to come in late everyday because anti-psychotics are making them drowsy in the morning? How many would let someone leave  early once a week for a CBT session?
That doesn't mean we should give up. Finding something meaningful to do with your life, paid or unpaid, is an important part of recovery. It's too important a problem for us to walk away. Sadly, as the MP Anne Begg said in last night's programme, the longer people are left without the help they need, the less likely they are to find that meaningful occupation we all deserve.
We need action on all fronts - now.
Do you want to add your voice to our campaigning? Join us today.

Check out www.bringchange2mind.org and www.nami.org for more info, closer to home.