There’s a BBC program called “Employable Me“, about the employability of the mentally ill. The program is about people with psychiatric disorders and the labour market. Now if you watch this video you might say that these people are simply unemployable. And yes, there is a scene showing a man suffering from full-blown Tourette who is looking for a job. And he has trouble finding it.
The program “Employable Me” shows people who are at the side of society due to extreme behavior that makes people feel uncomfortable. But this person has a high IQ and has many skills. And he cannot find a job. So a lot of potential is lost to society. And it’s such a waste.
But thinking about this, I thought about how it would be like to hire someone like him. And what keeps us from doing this. It’s easier to hire someone with a physical disability than it is to hire someone with a mental problem. And yet, to hire someone with a physical disability could requires effort too. You need to adapt the work space, the work tools, the furniture, the work instructions, … All of this is changing the physical context of work to the physical capacities and limitations of a person. It’s advanced ergonomics.
But if you’d translate this approach to people with a psychiatric disorder, it would require to adapt the mental context to the mental capabilities and limitations of a person. But how do you adapt the mental context if that mental context is also a social context? The social context does not suffer from the physical adaptations to physical qualities of a person. But the mental disorders disturb the social context. We feel uncomfortable. We need to adapt to peculiar behavior. Is that more difficult?
We are able to adapt to the mental capabilities of a developing human being. From childhood, there’s a long way to go to adulthood. But we get used to that. Why? Because we know there are stages every person must go through to become an independent person. Puberty is an ordeal for most parents and yet most of the parents seem to be able to get through it somehow. Parental behavior during puberty sometimes digresses towards less elevated behaviors.
But on the work place you cannot have this. And yet, it is possible – it must be possible – to hire people with different behaviors due to a mental disorder.
Let’s have a look at the data.
- In the U.S. only 12% of people with a serious mental illness are employed full-time, with another 10% being employed on a part-time basis.
- 99% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have worked at a certain point in their lives, showing that they are able to work. But after the diagnosis only 5,8% of people with schizophrenia are employed.
- 66% of people with a severe mental disorder are willing to work.
Let’s face it. The labor market is still exclusive. Hiring who do not fit the profile remains a challenge. And if you think of it, the same goes for education.
I recommend you to watch Employable Me. It confronts us with our own prejudice and embarrassment. And maybe we can use those emotions to maybe look for ways of becoming more inclusive. Or welcoming. Or humane.
Employable Me deserves a TV award. It has probably done more for employability programs than any government program could have. I recommend all employers, CEOs, HRDs to watch it and to think about how we could open up our minds for people who have skills and potential, but have a different behaviour than most people.
Check these sources on Employability
- Fit Mind, Fit Job. From Evidence to Practice in mental Health and Work, OECD
- Mental health and work: Impact, issues and good practices – WHO Report
- Promoting Employment of People with Mental Illness (Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law)
- The future of Health Care (Itinera Thinktank, in Dutch)
- Mental Illness and Employment Discrimination on Medscape