I have been watching intently to the “4 Goes Mad” series on Channel 4 this week, and after my blog post for Mind UK on Monday discussing my own experiences of employment and mental health, I watched with particular interest the show from last night; ”World’s Maddest Job Interview” .
Its a tough subject, and one that fills me with all sorts of emotion, even now as I write this.
The show itself was inspiring, and showed real courage from not only the candidates taking part, but to an extent, the employers too, who bared themselves quite candidly in their preconceptions and misguided views. I hope that many employers watched the show, and I hope that perhaps even just a few of them didn’t completely run a blank the next day back at the office before even pouring the first cup of their coffee.
Which brings me to the question that I can’t seem to answer either which way, that even after watching I still find myself torn with…
In my own experience, I have tried both. I hid the truth, and expanded my CV. My reason for leaving a prominent career without due cause seemed suddenly reckless and unexplainable. I felt ‘Politician-like’ in my answers, skimming around issues and linguistically dancing myself away from the obvious elephant in the room.
The others, I was honest.
I told the truth, that I had a breakdown, yes. But I received treatment, I received help. I volunteered during recovery, then taking the steps to re-evaluate my life, feeling lucky in my opportunity to do so and focus my career in a direction I was truly happy with and determined to succeed in.
As interview answers go, I don’t think that’s all bad really. Perhaps a little blasé after mentioning the ‘b’ word, but not bad all the same.
The reactions have been negative, to say the least.
I am happy to discuss mental health (as everyone I know can vouch for) as it is something I am passionate about, and can talk about quite freely with the idea that education is the best way of stamping out stigma for good. But this took it to a whole new level.
One asked what had caused the breakdown, for which I replied that it was a variety of factors, the straw that broke the camels back if it were. They wanted details. “If you don’t know what caused the breakdown, how do you know it won’t happen again?!” they retorted. I responded calmly, stating that of course, I did know, but didn’t find it appropriate to discuss such details in an interview. “After all”, I said. “Cancer can return much like any other illness, but you cant control it, nor can you live your life in fear of something that may never happen”.
The questioning continued, despite my efforts to steer it back to the matter at hand. I felt the once well dressed professionals had descended into a circle of vultures, keen to pick the ‘crazy person’ apart for..well…I’m still not sure why. Gossip? Idle fascination? Judgement? Who knows.
Another time I was asked to complete a form before the final ‘selection’ stage of a job, stating the following:
“Have you visited your GP, or been admitted to hospital in the past 18 months? If yes, please state why.”
I left this answer blank, and was asked as to why. I responded by saying I have no condition that would be relevant to the interview process nor the working environment, and as i’m sure they can appreciate, nearly everyone I know has probably visited their doctor at least once in that timeframe, and that declared my medical history at this or any stage seemed… inappropriate. Mental health aside, my appendicitis 18 months before or a small bout of tonsillitis seemed almost laughable to include in a recruitment document as “crucial information”.
They pushed and pushed, and frankly if I hadn’t worked in recruitment before and known my rights, I would have caved and told them everything. I reported back to my own Recruitment Consultant, and informed them I had no interest in pursuing any career which such a company.
Another questioned my dedication to awareness, saying it would ‘reflect badly on their company’ , the idea of me simply “doing the right thing” seemed alien to them. “Why raise money for a cancer charity if you have never had cancer?” they even replied when discussing my past charity involvement.
I am polite, I am honest, I am friendly and professional. I am determined and driven, not to mention creative. If i’m not right for the job, then so be it. There are a thousand reasons that I might not be suited, which I am happy to hold my hands up to should that be the case. But if you discriminate against people just like me, based on misguided prejudice, then I have to say, the only thing ‘ill’ about any of it is really how ‘ill informed’ they really are.
So I guess there lies my answer. I can’t change what people say or how they act, but if I continue to be myself, then maybe I can start to be the one to change their minds about mental health instead.