Schizophrenia sufferers' 'job fears'

12/11/13

Nearly two-thirds of adults in the UK would keep schizophrenia hidden from their employer if they were diagnosed, a survey suggests.

The research, published by the charity Rethink Mental Illness, claims only 35% of people would be open with their boss if they had the illness.

The online YouGov poll of more than 2,000 adults also says one in four (26%) of people wouldn't tell a friend.

More than three-quarters (77%) would not tell a neighbour, the charity says.

They told me not to be afraid, that they were watching me for my protection and that I was in danger
Jazmin Chatelier, on her symptoms

Business group, the CBI, admits more needs to be done by employers to improve conditions for staff with mental health problems.

Jazmin Chatelier started to suffer from schizophrenia when she was aged 22.

"I started hearing voices and first they were indistinct like chatter in the distance, and then they started talking directly to me," she said.

Jazmin says initially she felt unable to tell anyone about what she was going through. When she finally did, their reactions were often difficult to take.

"A lot of people just called me an attention-seeker, they did not understand what I was going through, and they thought I was making it up," she said.

What is Schizophrenia?

    • Schizophrenia is not a split personality.
    • It is a condition which affects thinking, feeling and behaviour.
    • Symptoms include hallucinations, hearing voices and a general loss of interest, energy and emotions.
Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists

"There was a point when I started wearing a hands-free kit so it looked like I wasn't crazy. So I would be talking to these voices like I was on the phone."

The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that one in every 100 people will suffer from schizophrenia at some point in their lifetime, with those aged 17-35 most likely to develop the condition.

Jazmin says while her symptoms are frightening, they are very rarely debilitating and that she is able to work. After leaving university she got a job in retail and made the decision to be open about her illness.

"I thought I owed them an explanation for whatever reason I was not able to do my job properly," she said.

"Their exact words were, 'You are not well enough to do this,' even though I had done the job for a year and I was well enough to do it."

She says her experience has made her question whether she would be as open about her illness with employers in future.

Rachel Hobbs
Image caption Rachel Hobbs is from the charity Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness is now calling for companies to do more to prevent discrimination. Rachel Hobbs is from the charity.

She said: "I think with conditions like schizophrenia people are still really afraid to tell people about it, and that really matters.

"We know that when people are open with their boss and their work colleagues, that is when they can get support and adjustments so that they are more likely to be able to stay well, and stay in their job."

The charity admits that like with any serious health problem, some people with schizophrenia will be unable to work.

Yvonne Stewart-Williams, 52, was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago.

"Before that, I had a really full life. I worked hard, had lots of friends and was always out partying," she said.

She says many of her friends were sympathetic, but did not understand her illness.

"Schizophrenia was almost like something mystical to them. Over time, as I struggled with my illness, a lot of friends disappeared."

Survey results

    • 35% wouldn't tell their boss
    • 77% wouldn't tell neighbours
    • 26% wouldn't tell friends
    • 84% would tell their family
Source: YouGov online poll of 2,049 adults

Neil Carberry is the Director for Employment and Skills for the CBI. He told Newsbeat that more needs to be done by employers.

"Mental health in the workplace is a big challenge for employers," he said.

"We've spent 20 years resolving issues of safety and we have one of the best workplace safety records in the world, but we have not done enough yet to address the issue of health, and particularly mental health."

He says an increasing number of employers are now reassessing their legal requirement to protect staff.

"Many more people work in offices and the primary risks today are around stress and mental health issues, not about some of the things that might happen to you in a factory."

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