After a year of treatment and rest, Vicky still can’t get a new job.
“Are you crazy?” Whenever one of our friends go mad or wild, we tend to ask them a question like this as a harmless joke. However, for those who have gone through a mental illness, this is never an appropriate question. According to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in 2016, nearly half of these ex-patients remain jobless after treatment, mainly due to employers’ worry about them “going crazy” at their workplace because they might feel fed up with their tedious and tiring job. But what they long for is a rare job opportunity.
Two years ago, when Vicky was still an accounting clerk at a local firm, she was diagnosed with depression due to great work pressure. After a year of treatment and rest, she is trying to get a new job, but it is difficult for her to enter the job market again. “I have extensive work experience in this field, but only 2 or 3 companies have contacted me for an interview. Maybe that’s because I once suffered from depression.” Even though she was given chances for interviews, she found some of the interview questions offending. “The interviewees asked me directly, “will you hurt your colleagues when you are stressed out?” They just equal mental illness to violence and danger. I feel like being labeled and discriminated.”
A lack of support from her family also makes her feel helpless. Her mum thinks that it is normal for her not to get a job because she was once “abnormal”. “Even my mum can’t understand me, I can’t expect the employers to do so, right?” Being unemployed for three months now, she is afraid that she will get depressed again if she can’t get a job as soon as possible. “Maybe I should not put down my medical history on the application form. I hate to be dishonest, but I am left with no choice.”
Gary Kwong, Chairman of Alliance of Ex-mentally Ill of Hong Kong.
Apart from the public misunderstanding of mental illness, Gary Kwong, Chairman of Alliance of Ex-mentally Ill of Hong Kong, says that unstable working schedule is another reason why employers are unwilling to employ people who have recovered from mental illness. “They need to request for leave from time to time for regular check-ups. This brings inconvenience to the company. Providing psychiatric out-patient services in the evening in public hospital can give employers incentive to employ them since their daytime job will not be affected.”
Besides improving the medical system, government policies are also important for supporting those who have been patients with mental illness. In 2016, the Social Welfare Department launched a Pilot Project on Peer Support Service in Community Psychiatric Service Units, commissioning 11 NGOs to train and employ people who have experienced mental illness as peer supporters for others in rehabilitation, providing them with more employment opportunities. But Kwong says the project lacks transparency. “Peer support service has been running in Australia for years, it is late for Hong Kong to start it now. What’s more, the government doesn’t provide enough information about the project, like where and when to provide training courses for peer supporters.” He advises the government to let peer supporters receive training as soon as possible so that they can build a positive image by serving at the NGOs, and employers will be more confident in employing them.
Kwong also says that students may become employers and colleagues of people who have been treated for mental illness in the future. Eliminating their misunderstanding of this group of people through education is a crucial step to help them to reintegrate into society.
Copy Editor: Maria
Content Manager: Misun