Our series on schizophrenia: Part 6
If you have mental illness, can you go to a university? Get a non-menial job?
Psychiatrist Dr Ang Yong Guan and clinical psychologist Dr Joel Yang said work application forms and university admission forms still ask about one’s state of mental health.
A local recruitment agency, The GMP Group, revealed that more than half of the employers that the agency handles want job applicants to state their mental condition. These employers are from both multinational and local companies.
Ang said: “Why do you need to ask that question? I have asked that of our universities. I am told that when the students are admitted to the university, they would pay extra attention if these students are under stress.
“But if a university does it to prevent a mentally ill person from gaining admission, then I think it is wrong.”
This practice is detrimental for young adults with mental illnesses and who are seeking employment.
Yang, who had worked with many national servicemen with different mental conditions, said: “For a lot of them [National Servicemen] struggling with their mental conditions is one thing, but letting it affect them in their jobs prospects places an added burden and sense of hopelessness.
“For many of them wanting to further their studies or seek employment after they complete their national service, they are faced with the fear of openly reporting their mental condition.
“In the application forms, they are worried what they would write when asked about whether they have been diagnosed with mental illness.
“Many fear they would be excluded from employment and entry into universities if they readily admitted to such.”
To make matters worse, there is also no law in Singapore that prohibits an employer from discriminating against applicants with mental illnesses.
Ang and Yang pointed out that many countries have set anti-discriminatory laws.
In the US and UK, the law forbids an employer from asking about an employee’s mental health state before an offer is made. Employers in Hong Kong are also forbidden from discriminating against those with mental illnesses.
Ang said it is time for Singapore to follow suit.
He said companies and universities must be transparent with their intentions when they ask for mental health declarations.
“People must be clear why are you picking the mentally ill as a special group and not those with physical disabilities.”
In 2013, the Institute of Mental Health started a club to help people with mental illnesses find employment. Yet, many of the job vacancies at the club are for low-level jobs, such as kitchen helper, cleaner and car park assistant.
It is not true that people with mental illnesses could only do such low-level employment, said Ang.
“They can work in the field they have been trained for. Maybe if you were an engineer, you can return to work as an assistant engineer.
“This is for those who are still affected by their illness, but for those who have made a recovery after a period of rehabilitation, they can go back to their original jobs.”
Though he admits this has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Ang said that employers could give those with mental illness some time to prove themselves.
“I think it is important for those who are afflicted with mental illness to feel useful and appreciated.
“But more importantly, they would be working in a profession they are trained for and they would not be looked down upon by others.”