Employers must understand what employing the mentally ill entails

In recent times, with greater emphasis on non-discrimination and equal opportunity, those of us with mental health conditions have been able to find jobs.

I must admit, however, it's not easy for people with mental health conditions to cope in Singapore's fast-paced environment.

I was hired by an accounting firm, started work and got fired two weeks later. Prior to starting work, I warned the firm about my mental illness, that I would be seeking regular professional help, which would translate to a large amount of time spent out of office and not working - not something many companies want.

The firm tried to be understanding at the start; it allowed me to take time off to seek help and gave me a reduced workload because they were afraid of stressing me out.

After two weeks, human resources asked a staff member to escort me to the meeting room, where I was fired after a long, awkward and extremely meandering conversation that could be summarised as: We didn't expect that hiring a mentally ill person would entail this amount of commitment, truth be told we're looking for someone who can keep up with our fast-paced environment, whom we don't have to lessen the workload for and who would be in office so we can meet all our deadlines. I was given no notice, just told that that day would be my last day with the firm.

As much as I applaud the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices, employers need to realise that hiring someone who is mentally ill requires a lot of commitment. It's about understanding that the candidate you're hiring may do only a fraction of a normal person's work given the same amount of time.

Some of us may have to take a reduced workload, but do trust that we want to work hard and contribute to a place open enough to hire those of us who are mentally ill in the first place. There will be a certain amount of cost inefficiency involved, but it leads to a more meaningful statistic on the annual report: It's not just the number of mentally ill employees that were recruited, but the number that stayed and progressed through the ranks over the years.

Ang Yi Ting

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2020, with the headline 'Employers must understand what employing the mentally ill entails'. Subscribe