People with mental illness are not unemployable

Employers need to give those who suffer from mental illnesses a chance. I get angry because as someone who struggles with mental illness, I find that in the workplace, in job interviews, I am seen as someone who is not up to the job because I am and have been ill. People at work know. They’ve seen my articles. They’ve read my blog. They know I’ve been in hospital.

But just because I struggle, don’t I deserve a chance to get ahead? Crippling anxiety can ruin job interviews for me because of extreme nerves and intrusive thoughts. The fact that I get interviews means they see something in me. I admit, I am so much better at writing than talking.

Maybe my anxiety, my mind blank, has ruined the interview. Maybe someone else showed that they’re so much more confident and assertive in the interview. They showed that they’re the “stronger” candidate? I’m not those things in interviews but I know I am those things in the job itself.

Why not give me a chance? Why not give someone who has struggled so much, has fought so many demons, has persevered through rejections after rejections in the workplace, why not give them a chance? Why not take a risk on them? Why not make them see that they’re not worthless? Why not make them see that they are valued? Why not make them see that they are good enough despite their illness? Because right now, I feel undervalued. I feel useless. I feel like I’m not good enough to take on a more higher role. I feel worthless. It’s driving me to hate myself more and more.

I’m not just talking about me. I want this discrimination towards people with mental health at work to end. We can do the job, we may need a bit of help, we may require a bit of time, but we can do the job. This needs to change.

I went to an International Women’s Day event at work today about careers and getting ahead in the workplace as a woman. The speaker said something about a ‘sponsor’ at work. I didn’t know that even existed. A sponsor is someone senior in the workplace who knows your struggles but also knows your strengths and achievements and will go out of his/her way to persuade someone to hire you and take a chance on you. That person is someone who sees potential in you but gives others a push to take a risk on you.

I wish I had a sponsor at work who would do that for me. I would love for someone to champion me. I am not my illness. I am not my anxiety. Dealing with various mental illnesses in general is tough let alone having to worry about it holding you back in the workplace.

I want to be given a chance. I want to be challenged. I want to show them that I can do the job, on the job.

IWD2015: British Muslim Women + Breaking Gender Cultural Norms

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I wouldn’t say I am a feminist but I do think strongly about the rights of women in the Islamic/South Asian culture. I am a young Muslim/Asian women from the UK, who appreciates her cultural roots but also has a western way of thinking. As a South Asian women living in the UK, I am expected to live the ‘traditional’ way – such as not working outside the domestic space, not studying to degree level, expected to get married as early as possible, expected to act rather ‘fragile’ ‘timid’ and hide away from men and never ever stay out late, just because I am a women.

From a young age, I always had a passion for the creative arts. But working in a field like that is ‘wrong’ for Asian/Muslim women. I realised there were not enough ethnic minorities working in the media. Why was that? Because of the culture issue. I wanted to change that. So despite all the criticism I got; that I should either get a “real job” like a doctor, lawyer or not work altogether, get married and become a housewife – well, I decided to go against that and pursue my dream and inspire others like myself to try and do the same.

I think a lot of Asian women, do feel oppressed but do not like to admit it due to fear. I can admit that I did feel oppressed at certain times of my life. I feared that if I did something rather ‘westernised’ I would get looked down on. And of course, I have been criticised but my whole point is that – going against your cultural norms does not mean you are disobeying your culture or your religion. Of course not.

Regarding education, I studied what I wanted to study and not what is expected of me due my culture, like I have seen others do because they were scared. Going through college and university was hard. Not only did I get little support for the course I chose to study, but also going through depression, social anxiety and an eating disorder and being in hospital at the same time. It was incredibly hard indeed.

Finishing my degree and getting my dream job at the BBC was the icing on the cake. It was like all the criticisms I faced was so worth it. I got a job, I am earning and the family are proud – despite their lack of support and trust whilst I was studying. Did I just prove them wrong? I think I did.

Breaking cultural norms is one of the hardest things you could ever do but I did it. People used to sneer at me when I would say ‘I want to work in the media.’ Now? Well, they are shocked that I made it and surprisingly inspired just because I am women. If I was a man, this would not be a big deal at all.

My message to all young women, especially within the Asian/Islamic culture – if you have a passion to do something in life that perhaps is ridiculed by family due to cultural norms – please do pursue that passion and prove to them that just because you are going against that aspect of your culture, does not mean you are going against the culture itself.

I fought my way through this and made it happen.

Make equality happen.