The challenges of finding a job when you have a mental health condition

Rough beginnings

I met with a traffic accident in November 2000. Though I escaped with only a minor cut on my hand, the incident sparked a series of mental health challenges. After the accident, I was first diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression, and then received a final diagnosis of bipolar disorder. My life took a drastic 180-degree change and became an emotional, mental and psychological roller coaster ride.

The psychiatric medications I have to take come with side effects that I have to manage. I also have to come to terms that bipolar disorder, like many mental health challenges, can only be treated but not cured. At the same time, I was also experiencing pressure in other areas such as employment and family matters in addition to facing societal stereotypes, stigmatisation, and discrimination against people with such challenges. 

I was looking for a job back then and was plagued with fears and uncertainties. I was in a dilemma about whether I should disclose my mental health condition to my prospective employer. My psychiatrist provided me with the information to make an informed choice, while my loved ones advised me not to disclose it. At the end of the day, I managed to secure a full-time job as an administrator by withholding the truth on my job application form.

Small steps towards big changes

After much self-reflection about my life calling, I  embarked on a part-time degree related to social services, and then took on a job in that sector.  

At one point, I decided to take a career break from the sector and explored the possibility of a career switch. I consulted a career consultant at a recruitment agency about a job. “I have a friend who is interested in this job but he has a mental illness, can he apply for it?” I asked. 

The reply was “Oh better not to. We do not know when this person will snap. And I doubt the company will know how to handle this group of people.”

My heart sank, but I applied for the job, nonetheless. However, I did not receive any news from that agency. I then underwent a period of career coaching, during which, I was advised not to declare my bipolar disorder on my job application form because it would be easier to clinch an interview with the prospective employer. 

My Major Milestones

A major milestone was when on 20 Jan 2020, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) issued the advice that employers should not ask job applicants to declare personal information such as their mental health conditions unless it is a job-related requirement. However, I learnt from a peer recently that though the question about mental health conditions has been removed from application forms, there remains a question about whether the applicant is on any long-term medication. So ultimately, people who are on life-long medications due to their mental health conditions will still have to reveal their conditions.   

The year is 2021 and it seems like people with mental health conditions could still face the same challenges that I faced back then. The discriminination faced by job seekers with mental health conditions has further spurred me to look closer at the challenges my peers and I face regarding our employment and holistic well-being. That was when I decided to set up my private practice Ouco Consulting, through which I hope to advocate for people with mental health conditions.     

Eugene Tan is a Registered Social Worker and Mental Wellness Advocate. He has more than 10 years of work and volunteering experiences, journeying with individuals and their significant others in the Correctional and Mental Health Rehabilitation, Families Services domains. He is the sole proprietor of Ouco Consulting, a private practice that provides client-centric care as well as individualised consulting services to meet the needs of every unique individual who comes through its doors.  Every individual with their issues is important to him and deserves a listening ear, whether it be personal, family, social, work, mental or emotional. Services will be kept affordable.

This story is kindly contributed by Eugene Tan.

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