A total of 300,000 people with a long term mental health condition lose their jobs each year, according to a Government-commissioned report.
The report also said 15% of people at work show symptoms of a mental health condition while mental ill health costs businesses £42 billion a year.
The report follows a survey by the charity Business in the Community (BITC) published earlier this month, which found that among employees who had disclosed mental health issues to an employer, 15% faced dismissal, disciplinary action or demotion.
The statistics alone are shocking, but we can’t forget that the individuals at the heart of this story are people, not numbers.
In light of the new findings, HuffPost UK spoke to five employees who have previously lost their jobs as a result of mental ill health.
Jayne, 35, worked as an accounts assistant.
“I was extremely ashamed that I had depression.”
“I was diagnosed with depression in 2004, at the age of 22. With hindsight, I can see that I had been struggling for a long time prior to diagnosis but I very much thought, at the time, that it was just a low spell that would pass.
“At the time, I was working as an accounts assistant, preparing accounts and payroll. I was struggling to make it into work (it was an hour’s commute) and on the days that it felt impossible, I would call in sick but say it was because of a physical illness. This was happening more and more frequently. I was definitely distracted at work and less productive that I had been which mattered as we would have to work to time budgets on jobs.
“I was extremely ashamed that I had depression, and hid it from as many people as I could. I never spoke directly to my employer about it either prior to diagnosis so I didn’t give him, or my manager, a chance to make adjustments or to support me. I posted him my sick note and that was the first he would have heard of my ill health. After a month when I wasn’t ready to return, my doctor provided me with another sick note, for another month. It was then, I think, that it all went a bit wrong.
“My employer would ring me frequently for updates on when I was planning to return and I didn’t have an answer; I was unwell and getting more unwell as time was progressing. I felt increasingly pressurised to return sooner rather than later and the calls started to cause me anxiety. I stopped answering the telephone to him because he was getting incredibly exasperated that I couldn’t give him a date for my return and received a letter in the end, asking me to call him. I eventually did and I said that I couldn’t give him a date because I didn’t know and so I wouldn’t return at all. Officially, it sounds as though I resigned, but it didn’t feel that way at the time, it felt as though I was cornered to make a decision, one I didn’t feel equipped nor well enough to make.
“I think more understanding of the illness would have helped him to understand that I couldn’t just put a date on recovery and would have then also eased the pressure I felt to return as quickly as possible.”
Matt, 27, worked for a multinational manufacturing company.
“He even tried to convince me to resign.”
“In June 2015, I tried to take my own life, mostly due to stress and workload at work. We had lost several members of staff without them being replaced, but the trigger was an incident at work where I defended someone and came under attack. I challenged my senior manager when I knew he’d offended some colleagues and he replied with “I don’t care”. It set off the same cascade failure I had seen a few months earlier except this time, I asked for help and was signed off work. When I told that same manager I had been signed off due to stress he replied “No one else has a problem.” He even tried to convince me to resign.
“In the end, I took the company to employment tribunal but settled before the first hearing. Part of me wishes I had my ‘day in court’ but by this point, months after I ended up on long-term sick and having my pay cut off, I needed the money. I went from taking 100+ phone calls a day, handling orders in excess of £1m to being unable to make or take phone calls and crying when trying to handle basic paperwork.
“Around a year ago, I successfully applied for a job with the council as a Lollipop Man outside my old primary school. It hasn’t been perfect, but in the last year I’ve also become a Teaching Assistant at that school and re-met an old school friend who I’m now engaged to.
“Even though I am so much better than when I attempted suicide, I will always suffer anxiety and depression linked to my condition (Borderline Personality Disorder). Fortunately, my current employer recognises that, like everyone else, there are times when I won’t be 100%. I’ve taken a massive pay cut in my new job. I might be a lot poorer than when I worked in that office, but I am happier and physically healthier than ever before.”
Emily, 21, worked in social media.
“I lost my job within the hour.”
“My mental health issues first started in 2010 when I was 14. I was just starting my GCSEs and the stress caused mild depression and anxiety. From there, my mental health has changed and I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder since February 2017.
“I was working in social media for one of the UK’s most celebrated agencies. I was left to do a new job with no training and whilst on a small team of two, my manager would often disappear, leaving me to do all the work for the whole agency. This triggered my stress, however, apart from the odd time I worked from home, my illness did not affect my work.
“The HR department knew about my mental health problems but this was not passed on to my managers or the senior management team. When asked, I was open with my line manager, however, when he passed the message on to the CEO, I lost my job within the hour.
“My line manager was incredibly supportive and even opened up about his own struggles with mental illness with me, however, after the CEO of the company found out about my illness, he pulled me into a meeting with the MD and told me I was being sacked. He cited unreliability as the reason, however, I was good at my job and completed every task I had been given.
“This was also never communicated to me prior to the meeting in which I lost my job. I did contact ACAS, however, the company wouldn’t settle and I couldn’t afford the court fees, which I was really disappointed with.
Denise, 50, worked as a nurse.
“I didn’t tell my employer because I was ashamed.”
“My diagnosis is Bipolar type II. I was diagnosed in 1991 when I was around 24 or 25. But I had experienced mental health problems since age 16. I also have physical health problems – fibromyalgia, mobility issues and inflammatory bowel disease. My energy levels vary a lot, sometimes I can’t get out of bed because I’m so fatigued.
“I get severe depression more often than mania and take antidepressants which I think helps keep me reasonably well most of the time.
“I’m a mental health nurse and trained over 30 years ago. I actually studied to become a psychiatric nurse. Unfortunately just before Christmas I tried to go back to work too soon and suffered an extreme relapse – the worse I’ve ever had – after just six weeks in the job. I was working part time, but ended up losing my job. I didn’t tell my employer because I was ashamed and didn’t want to be seen as a burden. In terms of adjustments, I don’t think I’d really need that much. Just a listening ear every now and again.
“I can work really hard and really well when I’m well. It’s almost enough just to be open and know that people are aware. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to need loads of time off.
“Unfortunately going back to work was the wrong decision and I had to leave. I think that if employers rethought their stringent sick policies and attitudes towards recruiting and employing people with health conditions, and worked harder to create mentally healthy workplaces, they wouldn’t have so many problems retaining good staff.”
Andrea, 47, worked in mental health consultancy.
“I felt powerless.”
“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 26 years ago in 1996. A few years ago I worked for a mental health consultancy. I had never disclosed anything about my mental health; I had never felt the need to, I was their top performer, I did really well in reviews. But one day a colleague approached me after someone she knew had been diagnosed with a chronic mental health problem. She was very distressed, so I disclosed to her. I was trying to show here there’s hope for recovery and gave her some resources to look into.
“Within 24 hours I was called into the office at work because the woman I had spoken to went directly to the board. I was told categorically that I was in a poor legal position because I had lied on my pre-employment health questionnaire – those went out of the window in 2010.
“They then said I was a risk to the clients, and they didn’t feel as though they could trust my judgement. I was walked out that day.
“I was in utter shock. I felt powerless. It was like being blamed for A, something that they didn’t understand and B, did not affect my ability to do my job. I felt incredibly stigmatised.
“The problem for me was that I just didn’t feel like I could rock the boat because I’d never been open about my mental health problems. So I actually ended up starting a private consultancy off the back of it.
“There was a settlement, it was all very quiet. You’re risking your future career by speaking out.
“Working for myself is the single best thing that has ever happened to me. It allowed me to own my distress, own my story. For people who aren’t in a position to find employment on their own, my advice would be to find an outlet for your story, even if it’s not in a professional capacity, really own it and be proud. Find your voice. Stigma is a fatal disease.”
*All images used are stock images posed by models and speaker surnames have been removed to protect anonymity.