People with mental issues face job discrimination

Ms Hafizah (right) and Ms Yamuna (far right) had a hard time finding jobs because of employers' prejudices. They are now employed, but the stark challenges they faced are still a reality for those looking for jobs while coping with mental health issu
Ms Hafizah (above) and Ms Yamuna had a hard time finding jobs because of employers' prejudices. They are now employed, but the stark challenges they faced are still a reality for those looking for jobs while coping with mental health issues.PHOTOS: DON WONG FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES, MARK CHEONG
Ms Hafizah (right) and Ms Yamuna (far right) had a hard time finding jobs because of employers' prejudices. They are now employed, but the stark challenges they faced are still a reality for those looking for jobs while coping with mental health issu
Ms Hafizah and Ms Yamuna (above) had a hard time finding jobs because of employers' prejudices. They are now employed, but the stark challenges they faced are still a reality for those looking for jobs while coping with mental health issues.PHOTOS: DON WONG FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES, MARK CHEONG

Those interviewed say sense of societal rejection most acute while hunting for jobs

The hallucinations and delusions started in her late teens. Then five years ago, Ms Hafizah Kamarulzaman was diagnosed with schizophrenia after giving birth to her son.

While the single mother, now 23, managed to control her condition after seeking help, she struggled to get a job for almost four years, she told The Sunday Times.

She described how she was turned down for positions in the food and beverage and healthcare sectors, on the sidelines of an event called "Walk with Us, Stamp out Stigma". It was held in Orchard Road yesterday to combat the stigma faced by people with mental health conditions.

She said: "When the boss saw in my application form for a waitressing job that I had a mental illness, he asked what would happen if I had a relapse. I told him I had coping methods that I could use.

"His response was, 'If that's the case, then our position is full'."

FACING OUTRIGHT REJECTION

When the boss saw in my application form for a waitressing job that I had a mental illness, he asked what would happen if I had a relapse. I told him I had coping methods that I could use. His response was, 'If that's the case, then our position is full'.

MS HAFIZAH KAMARULZAMAN

Ms Hafizah finally found a job late last year as a programme executive at Club Heal, a social service organisation that helps people who have mental illnesses. It was also where she had been treated.

Yesterday's event was co-organised by the Agency for Integrated Care alongside 14 other community health partners such as Caregivers Alliance and the Institute of Mental Health, to commemorate World Mental Health Day, which is observed tomorrow.

At the event, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob urged employers not to be prejudiced against people with mental health conditions.

In a recent National Council of Social Service survey of 477 people recovering from mental health issues, seven in 10 said they had problems "living with dignity" because of other people's attitudes and actions, making them feel unaccepted by society or unable to contribute meaningfully to it.

Others interviewed by The Sunday Times said they felt the sense of societal rejection most acutely while job hunting.

Ms Yamuna Segaran, 26, who has had acute anxiety and depression since her teenage years, said an interviewer once pushed her resume away upon learning about her mental health condition.

This was even though the interviewer had initially been impressed by her work experience.

Ms Yamuna, a part-time student at Kaplan Singapore who is pursuing a counselling degree from Northumbria University, said: "The look on the interviewer's face is still etched in my mind."

While she wanted to reintegrate into society, the difficulties she faced in finding a job made it harder to do so. She persisted in her job search, thanks to the support of her family, counsellor and psychiatrist and has since found a job as a supervisor at a bar.

Ms Valerie Liu, 34, who has had schizophrenia since 2008, feels that people with mental illnesses also have to overcome their own biases and fears. Some may themselves hold negative stereotypes associated with mental health sufferers, or be afraid of communicating with people.

Ms Winnie Kong, 28, a thrift shop sales assistant who suffers from borderline personality disorder, said she had been rejected by employers for positions in administration and sales.

She said: "They think that we are violent but this is not true in most cases. I think we should be given a chance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 09, 2016, with the headline 'People with mental issues face job discrimination'. Print Edition | Subscribe