Mar 16, 2017
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
My story is about lack of inclusion.
It started when I graduated from grad school in 1992. I went to the University for a Master’s in electrical engineering. The first job I had I got fired from in six months. To be fair to that employer, I hadn’t been diagnosed with a mental illness yet. During the next job, I became manic after having worked for six months. I was diagnosed with bipolar and went on long-term disability. My doctor’s attitude, as well as my family’s and my own, was that I shouldn’t work. I didn’t really question this at the time, but as it turned out, our attitudes reflected those of society in general: the mentally disabled shouldn’t work. Nothing much has changed.
While on disability, I went to art school. I dropped out of that for a number of reasons, including mental health issues. After that I got a job programming computers. I was hired in spite of the fact that I hadn’t worked in over two years and the fact that I disclosed my mental illness, because my employer was sensitive to the issues faced by the mentally disabled because he had a family member with bipolar. I stayed at this job for two years and left voluntarily when the project I was working on ended. This, for me, is an employment success story and it speaks volumes about the benefits of having a sympathetic employer. My next employer I didn’t disclose to and I was fired after six months. I moved back to my hometown and lived with my parents and did some work for a mental health not-for-profit agency. Then I started my own computer technical services company. I did this for six years but was never able to make enough money to support myself.
Sympathetic employers are hard to find.
I decided to go to law school to try to deal with learning problems I’ve had all my life. I started applying and in 2008 I was accepted to a law school and attended. I stayed for almost two years, working on my very poor reading skills. Due to poor reading ability and very poor memory, I didn’t do very well. Eventually I withdrew.
I tried to get work as a plumbing apprentice while working part-time in a homeless shelter. When I wasn’t able to get plumbing work, I went to work in a factory that builds mini-homes (modular homes built in a factory and shipped to sites). I worked there for two years without disclosing my medical condition. I didn’t disclose because the work was trivial and I didn’t require accommodations. Unfortunately the pay was trivial too. After two years I had mental health problems and went on leave and then left completely in the fall of 2013. After a year of unsuccessfully looking for work I moved back to my hometown where I now live with my father. I continue to look unsuccessfully for work and occupy my time with art and volunteer work.
Real inclusion in society means a lot more than talking.
My story reflects a lack of any real programs or policies for incorporating the mentally disabled into the workplace. The only meaningful work I’ve had in the last 24 years, aside from self-employment, was computer programming jobs that arose out of the .com boom. Of these jobs, the only ones that lasted a significant period of time were ones that involved working for employers who were sympathetic to the plight of people with mental health issues. The .com boom is over and never to return and sympathetic employers are hard to find.
I get very disgruntled when people say that all the mentally ill want to do is talk. This is nonsense. Real inclusion in society means a lot more than talking. It means meaningful employment so that we can have the same things that able-bodied people have: families and a position in our communities. I have neither and I’m not alone. When people say we need to talk about mental illness what we should be talking about are real issues like inclusion in the workplace.
All the provinces have very nice human rights codes prohibiting discriminating against the disabled and requiring accommodation of the disabled in the workplace. Unfortunately the governments are very slack in enforcing them, relying on complaint systems rather than developing standards that companies must meet regarding policies for employing and accommodating the mentally disabled. I’ve talked to Human Rights Commission of Ontario and they tell me their role is education for employers who invite them to come and talk to them. I don’t think there are a lot of employers who suddenly feel a burning need to call the Human Rights Commission to request an education session. This is way too passive for a government that considers itself progressive on human rights.