Chris Corcoran last held down a paid job in October 2013, although not for a lack of trying.
Every job application he has submitted in the past few years has gone unanswered, unless lived experience with mental illness was listed as a desired requirement.
Tired of his mental health struggles precluding him from employment, Mr Corcoran set up his own business, where he hopes to use his personal trainer qualifications and the psychology and sports science degree he is studying to help others in their recovery.
His was one of the many stories an ACT parliamentary inquiry into the employment of people with disabilities heard on Tuesday.
A white paper released on the same by the University of Tasmania showed one in five Australian employees were likely to be affected by a mental health condition in a 12 month period.
The cost of mental health conditions on Australian work places was estimated to be about $10.9 billion per year – $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $145.9 million in compensation claim.
The committee was told employers needed to be more flexible about letting mentally ill staff work from home or reduced hours and doing more to reduce stigma in the workplace.
“One of the biggest problems is that people think you’re being lazy because there’s nothing visibly wrong,” deputy chair of the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network, Mr Corcoran said.
“We’re not looking for special treatment – I want to be a valued part of the team. It’s just recognising I need – not necessarily all of the time – a bit of flexibility in employment hours, maybe being able to work from home, that type of thing.”
ACT Mental Health Consumer Network executive officer Dalane Drexler said disability employment service providers needed to focus less on short term numbers and more on long term reporting.
“They need to stop getting bonuses for the number of people they get in jobs and start actually having them report back on what they’re doing for people otherwise they just take the easiest cases and find them a job,” Ms Drexler said.
“It’s making somebody a number, it’s not actually helping anybody.”
Ms Drexler said many disability employment service providers needed training to deal with people with mental illness.
“These disability employment service providers treat people with depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness as lazy people who don’t want to work and they do things like refuse to support them to receive training that would actually help them to get into the workforce because it looks as though they’re not helping themselves, it’s very very common,” she said.
“It’s the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’. If I can’t see your disability, if I can’t understand your disability, regardless of what you’re telling me, regardless of what doctors are saying, if I can’t see it, it’s not real, you need to get off your butt and do something.”
This piece was first seen on ‘The Canberra Times’ May 27 2017.