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SMEs still not hiring those with mental illness

New findings have revealed that two in five small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will not employ someone with a mental illness.

Not-for-profit employment services provider WISE Employment has today released the Empowermental research report, exploring the outlooks that some 256 SMEs have towards hiring those with a mental illness.

Unpredictable behaviour (57 per cent), the possibility of a breakdown (54 per cent) and the potential for many sick days (43 per cent) were cited as the biggest barriers preventing SMEs from hiring a person with a mental illness, findings similar to the 2012 Empowermental research report.

“The report points out that there’s still a lack of information and awareness around employing people with a mental illness,” Matt Lambelle, CEO of WISE Employment, tells Dynamic Business.

The report revealed that SMEs were more willing to hire employees without any TAFE or tertiary experience (66 per cent), those who have a physical disability (50 per cent) or those who are currently learning English as a second language (43 per cent), than hiring a person with a mental illness, regardless of whether they were qualified or not.

“The perceptions don’t match the reality,” Lambelle says. “People may have a perception that hiring someone with mental illness won’t be reliable or that they’ll take too many sick days, but employers that have actually employed people with mental illness have found that it has been a positive experience.”

Of the SMEs that have employed those with mental illness, 63 per cent reported positive results. 78 per cent said the employee was a good fit for their team, 67 percent said the employee was hardworking, and 53 per cent said the employee was good for the company.

Lambelle says that the lack of openness when discussing mental illness plays a hand in the negative outlook.

“A lot of employers probably have people within their employment right now that have experienced mental illness or are currently living with mental illness, but because there’s a stigma around it, it doesn’t come up in open conversations,” he says.

“It’s when it’s not in open conversation that it can have a negative outcome for the business and for the individual. There’s a stalemate. If someone discloses they have a mental illness to a prospective employer, they could potentially be discriminated against. That’s human nature unfortunately.”

According to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1 in 5 Australians aged 16 – 85 have a mental illness. With 20 per cent of Australians classified as having a mental illness, Lambelle says that SMEs are ultimately missing out.

“If employers remain uneducated about mental health and fear hiring people who have a mental illness, they’re missing out on a huge pool of untapped skill and talent.”