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David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Mental illness now 'last taboo'
Tuesday, 10 October 2006
By Mark Easton, BBC News

It has been described as the last taboo.

Significant mental distress will affect one in four of us in our lifetime. One in six of the population is suffering at any time - the vast majority enduring depression, stress and anxiety.

And yet the evidence is that stigma and discrimination are rife in the workplace - even among those with mild to moderate problems.

While 75% of adults are in work and 65% of people with physical health problems, among those with mental health problems the figure is 20%.

Airbrushed out
Diane Hackney was marked out as a city high-flyer, destined to be the first woman on the board of a multinational company based in London.

Then depression struck and three months later she returned to work to find her job and her career had been airbrushed out.

"Their response was - we can't have people like you in that position in our company", she says. "I had no work. I sat at my desk and realised this wasn't going to change. I eventually asked for redundancy and they were happy I had asked."

It is a familiar story. A third of people with mental health problems say they have been sacked or forced to resign because of their condition.

About 40% say they have been denied a job because of their history of psychiatric treatment and 95% reckon their mental health problems have had considerable negative effects on their employment

There was no medical reason why Diane could not hold down a top job. Indeed, she carved out a new career as an advisor and consultant in the voluntary sector - becoming the chief executive of a mental health charity.

'Extremely painful'
Eventually she was headhunted by the NHS who asked her to be patient representative on the board of one of a mental health trust.

But then Diane had another episode of depression - and the trust was far from understanding.

"It was extremely painful", she says. "More distressing than any of my mental health issues. It is still distressing to think about it now."

The relationship with the trust worsened and they asked her to resign. Eventually, she says she was forced out.

"I think people thought I would lose insight, would be psychotic, unable to do my job."

Could that be true? "No, not according to my medical records no."

Thirty per cent of workers will have a mental health problem in any one year, and yet many employers deny they have any workers with such problems.

Today Diane is fighting against stigma and prejudice - working with the Department of Health and voluntary groups trying to counter the ignorance and fear which blights the lives of people suffering even mild mental distress.

Employees 'fearful'
How does she rate British employers? "Terrible, truly terrible", she says. "My story is far from unique."

Diane points to what she sees as the Catch 22 problem for people with mental health issues.

"People don't realise that in order to be protected by the Discrimination Act they must inform their employers of their condition. But people don't because they fear the consequences." Are they right to be fearful? "Yes, they are."

The proportion of employers who say they won't recruit people with mental health problems? 63%.
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