Channel 4’s Mental Health Documentary

Kevin Gallagher shares his opinion of the recent Channel 4 documentary on the subject of mental health disclosure to potential employers and compares it with the soon-to-be released report on the subject from Employability Peer Support (EPS).

Glasgow’s EPS is a development group made up of mental health service users and providers from around Glasgow. For a number of years they have carried out research and produced publications and a recent DVD promoting pathways into employment for people with lived experience of mental ill-health. They meet regularly in Platforum in Govan.

EPS is currently researching the serious issue of disclosure of mental health histories to potential employers. As part of continuing anti-stigma work in the city, EPS have carried out 9 focus groups around Greater Glasgow taking on the views of over 50 people. Importantly, these focus groups sought to find suggestions for solutions to the problem of discrimination. It is timely that Channel 4 has produced a show covering this subject.

The ‘documentary’ Worlds Maddest Job Interview was a good try that didn’t fully address its aims to challenge the discriminations people faced in the search for employment. It was more successful introducing the public unaware of the situation in general terms and has stimulated some debate online. The game show format featured 8 volunteers being interviewed over a five-day period by a small team of prominent business executives to select the best candidates and implicitly to eliminate those with mental health histories.

With 6 out of the 8 volunteers having lived experience of some form of mental health issue, and one of the remaining clearly in need of some emotional counselling, the outcome seemed too preordained.

Like Big Brother, there is the suspicion that some selectivity has gone into what material from the five-day shoot made it into this reality show format.

Who knows what the context was to Claude Littner’s comment that he wouldn’t know how to cope with someone feeling suicidal. There is plenty of suicide awareness training available for managers which the producers could have signposted for viewers. Littner could even take advice from someone with lived experience. When he said “I would be sad for them and would not employ them”, it sounded almost too scripted to fit in with the eventual ‘change of heart’ at the show’s conclusion. The worst thing was the experiences and opinions about discrimination of the volunteers were hardly aired.

It probably won’t help convince people with hardened prejudices who equate mental health experience as a weakness rather than a source of potential strength. Obviously some employers may feel they have no duty to hire those with existing histories but they overlook that a significant number of employees first become ill while in employment. Having a duty of care for existing staff makes economic sense and is a legal obligation.

The EPS research is soon to be published – there will be more background information on the group at that time. While trying not to pre-empt its finding it is clear that business &employers will get more from reading it than watching a whole series of shallow TV. They will get more by participating in the continued consultation that will follow the EPS report. Only by talking to those with lived experience can anyone hope to understand. Rather than getting bogged-down with past illnesses, this report could lead towards solutions to discrimination that is damaging business as well as the employability of a huge section of the community.

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