Penalised for stating she had depression

Over the years, Ms Jenny Koh, 32, has refined her job-hunting strategy. Whenever she applies for a job, she does not indicate in the forms that she suffers from depression.

Once she secures the interview, however, she makes it a point to tell the potential employer about her mental illness.

Her approach is one borne out by years of experience.

Fresh out of school 10 years ago, she sent out seven job applications for customer service and marketing roles. She declared her condition and was rejected by all. Half of the employers cited her medical history as the reason for the rejection.

"I decided not to declare my condition for the eighth application. And guess what? I was hired," she said.

Then, her medication made her tired and unable to focus at times. She fell sick often.

But she excelled in her work and was promoted to become a customer service executive a year later.

That was when things spiralled downhill, with stress getting to her as she took on increased responsibilities at work even as she was studying part time for a degree.

So, when a conflict occurred over a presentation, she had a breakdown and started cutting herself with a penknife in the office. A medical team was activated and her bosses and colleagues found out she has depression. "After that incident, my colleagues were very afraid of me. They started labelling me as siao (crazy in Hokkien) and that hurt."

Her boss questioned her, but let her stay on as he agreed she was doing her job well. She quit after four years to further her studies.

Ms Koh later took on jobs in the food and beverage and construction and renovation industries. Each time she got an interview, she would make known her condition.

"I was confident about my work track record by then and I didn't want to hide anymore, so that if anything happened in the office, people would understand," said Ms Koh, who is now a marketing manager at a construction and project management firm.

Ms Tan Li Li, executive director of the Singapore Association of Mental Health, said: "If the employer is an inclusive employer and the work environment and colleagues are ready and mature, disclosure can result in a better support mechanism."

Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Koh Juan Kiat said employers should offer workplace support, if necessary.

"People with mental illness should be given a fair chance to prove themselves at work. Having a job and earning an income give them much confidence and assurance... being unemployed can make them feel even more stressed and depressed."

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Penalised for stating she had depression'. Print Edition | Subscribe