New survey suggests people with a mental illness face ‘locked door’ from employers

Rethink Mental Illness has expressed serious concern over new figures showing a ‘locked door of prejudice and misunderstanding’ keeping people severely affected by mental illness out of the workplace.

New figures show the barriers facing them in the workplace even when they are well enough to work.

  • 68% of people who can hire staff would worry someone with severe mental illness wouldn’t fit in with the team
  • 83% of would worry that someone with severe mental illness wouldn’t be able to cope with the demands of the job
  • 74% would worry that someone with severe mental illness would need lots of time off

Only 43% of all people with mental health problems are in employment, compared to 74% of the general population. For some conditions the employment rate is even lower – 8% of people with schizophrenia are currently in work.

This is despite the two thirds of people with mental illness who were unemployed saying they wanted to work or are looking for work.

The new survey of 500 people with hiring responsibilities shows over half (54%) of people wouldn’t know how to support someone with a severe mental health condition, like schizophrenia, at work.

However 56% would be more likely to employ someone if they felt better equipped to support them, for example through training.

Brian Dow, Director of External Affairs at Rethink Mental Illness said:

“These figures show us that the vast majority of managers still have cold feet when it actually comes to employing people with mental illness.

“No wonder many people with mental illness feel like they’re pushing against a locked door when it comes to employment. Prejudice and confusion are keeping people who are well enough and want to work out of employment.

“Employing people with mental illness is not as fraught or complex as people seem to think. Often the adjustments people need are easy and don’t cost anything, like flexible working, quiet areas and well being plans.”

Employers and employees can find more on adjustments and their rights at

Denise Martin from Bristol said:

“I’ve been affected by mental illness since I was 16 years old but was diagnosed with bipolar when I was 25. Despite my mental health condition I worked as a mental health nurse all my life until 2011. I became physically unwell in 2011 with spinal problems and was forced to leave my job. Being off work for a long period of time has really knocked my confidence, but when I’ve felt better I’ve able to go for job interviews.

“It’s always a dilemma as to whether I should disclose the fact I have bipolar or not. It feels like a risk, which it shouldn’t, and unfortunately I have experienced stigma when I have disclosed. I had a job offer withdrawn at the last minute when I told them about my condition. It feels like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place – a benefits system and the workplace, neither of which understand mental illness.”

Matt Pearce