News emerges from specific DWP offices that they are urging jobseekers to not reveal any mental health problems when applying for jobs. The Guardian states this: Jobcentre Plus advisers have told people looking for work to “avoid words that sound worse than they are” and “avoid terms such as depression” when drafting CVs and filling in applications. This happened in Dorset where the local NHS trust issued similar advice to people in the past. Call it “low mood” and not severe clinical depression. In other words, lie or you won’t get the job. My own personal experience is that there is something in this.
Again the Guardian: A spokesperson for the DWP said it was “well-intentioned local advice” but had been withdrawn “as we would always encourage jobseekers to speak freely about a health condition or disability”. And again: Speaking in the House of Commons, the shadow disabilities minister, Marsha De Cordova, attacked the advice, saying: “In essence the DWP are encouraging disabled people to downplay their disability or health condition.” Both points deserve a response.
Firstly, DWP advice “(encouraging) jobseekers freely about a health condition or disability” makes one huge assumption which is that there is no stigma about conditions such as mental illness and ME. “It’s okay to not be okay,” is the soundbite of the day. Just be honest with any prospective employer and love will wash over you as you are given the job ahead of those who don’t suffer from “a health condition or disability”. My experience, and not just my own personal experience, is that this is a triumph of hope over reality. I am sure there will be a number of ‘good’ employers who would happily employ the person they think is best for the job, regardless of any medical conditions, but dream on if you think this is the norm. I would go so far as to say the precise opposite is the case. I have always downplayed my mental health issues with employers and just about everyone else.
Then, a curious comment from MIND: The mental health charity Mind said the advice was “really worrying” as the law provided protection to disabled people, including those with mental health problems, if their disability has a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on normal daily activities. The words “the law provided protection to disabled people, including those with mental health problems.” It’s never been suggested to me that I might be disabled because of my clinical depression, so maybe I should reconsider and perhaps sign up for a blue badge to make parking my car easier when I am out and about? Not that I’d be able to afford to run a car if I couldn’t get a job. A bit of Catch 22, there.
The DWP in Poole advised claimants as follows: “You may wish to avoid terms such as depression, ME or low back pain and use more general terms such as low mood or a mental health condition, a fatigue-related condition, an ongoing pain condition etc.” If the DWP locally has gone OTT, it’s only a bit. The reality I, and others, have experienced is that the whole issue is a lottery. Some employers will embrace someone’s honesty about their medical condition if they think they will be an asset. Others will give them the “benefit of the doubt”. However, many will hear alarm bells indicating future issues and problems. Why take a chance, they might think?
I’m tired of repeating the same old cliche over and over again but the truth is it’s not okay to not be okay. Although it’s a catchy little slogan, we still live in an unenlightened era where mental health is presented as being little more than someone being fed up.
The advice given by the DWP in Poole should at least be listened to and understood. Answering a question about my health at a job interview, replying that I suffer from severe clinical depression would surely invoke a silent “don’t call us, we’ll call you” response from the employer.
I’ve always, instinctively, made minimal reference to my own demons because I know that attitudes have barely changed since I was a child. The law might provide” protection to disabled people, including those with mental health problems”, but less than you might imagine.