Thursday, August 27, 2009

British study: Bankers most likely to discriminate against job applicants with a mental illness

From The Guardian in the UK:

Negative attitudes to employing people with mental health problems across all sectors could hamper plans to get them into work.

Jobseekers with mental health problems are likely to be discriminated against in the workplace, survey finds.

Bankers are more likely to discriminate against job applicants with mental health problems than any other profession. Almost half (46%) of bank workers admitted they would be reluctant to employ someone with a mental illness, according to new research.

The survey by national anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, asked more than 2,000 people if having a mental illness would be a barrier to employment and found evidence of entrenched negative attitudes across all sectors.

More than half of those questioned (56%) in the study confessed that they would not employ someone with a mental illness even if they knew they were the best candidate. The reasons given ranged from a belief that staff with a mental illness would be unreliable to concerns that their presence would "undermine team morale".

Mental health campaigners say such views could reinforce unfounded misconceptions around mental health and seriously hinder people's attempts to get back to work in the current economic climate.

Some professions were regarded as more likely to be damaged by a diagnosis than others. Around half of those surveyed said doctors, people working in emergency services and teachers were most likely to be hindered by revealing a mental illness. Just 21% felt that having a mental illness would damage the career of MPs, despite the fact that it is still illegal for someone with a history of mental health problems to work as a member of parliament.

A key plank of the government's welfare-to-work strategy involves getting long-term unemployed people with a mental health problem back into work. It is estimated that 40-50% of the long-term unemployed have a mental health problem and that a similar proportion of incapacity benefit claimants have a primary diagnosis of a mental health problem.

Time to Change, a £20m anti-stigma campaign for England that was launched last year and funded by the National Lottery and Comic Relief is overseen by the mental health charities Mind and Rethink. It has a three-year remit to break down some of the negative perceptions around people with mental illness.

Its chief executive, Sue Baker, said the research results were particularly concerning during an economic downturn when competition for jobs was at its fiercest. "The issue of mental health in the workplace is never more important than in a time of recession," she said. "We need to be able to have a discussion about mental health problems in the workplace and to put an end to discriminatory attitudes that prevent people from working."

Jonathan Naess, director of the charity Stand to Reason, which campaigns for changes in workplace practices toward people with mental health problems, said the research was a clear indication that much more needed to be done to challenge stereotypes if discrimination was to be eradicated.

"This survey reveals shocking levels of disability discrimination. At its root, stigma is based upon ignorance. The more employers realise just how many of their existing workforce are performing well for them while managing fluctuating mental health, the greater the chance they will recognise our talent at interview."

A spokesman for the British Bankers Association, the banking industry's trade body said: "There are many different types of jobs in banking and these will encompass a wide range of skills and responsibilities. As with most occupations, a job offer will usually be dependent on a satisfactory pre-employment medical examination and will also take into consideration the person's previous employment record.

" It's important that the right person is matched with the particular job for which they are applying and this could mean that the bank will base at least part of its decision on the recommendation of the doctor carrying out the pre-employment medical," he added.