Job searching advice for students experiencing mental health challenges

I asked several experts to share their answers to the question –

“What’s the best piece of advice you would give to a student with mental health challenges who is looking for employment?”

We’re very lucky that people gave up their time to help out, and here are their answers:

Nick Elston

“Avoid assumption.  We are geared towards assuming a negative outcome.  This will negatively impact our chances of success and cause us pain, anxiety and frustration – even before it’s happened!  Be prepared, manage the manageables and take it all step by step.”

Nick is international speaker on the topics of anxiety, mental health and wellbeing. Nick’s website can be seen here.

Lesley Harvey, Mental Health Workshop Facilitator, Mindful Employer

“The law is very much on the side of the individual looking for employment as they are covered under the Discrimination and Equality Act – so that is the first good news.  However, knowing that is one thing but preparing for interview and the questions someone might be asked is quite another.  In reality the interviewer will not ask about mental health challenges – so I would say that there is no need to raise the question at that stage.  However, if the student has concerns that they may have difficulty coping – they may want to explain their concerns and share their mental health issues in order to qualify that the role they are applying for will actually work for them.   Alternatively, they could ask questions without explaining – and then wait to see if an offer is received.  If so, they can accept the offer and then ask for an opportunity to discuss their mental health and how it may affect them at work and if they require reasonable adjustments to be made they should discuss them at that point. 

Key thing is for them to :  Understand the challenges they are likely to have in a work situation and only apply for roles where they are confident that for the most part they will be able to cope.  2. Clearly identify what their mental health challenges are and what might mean should their mental wellbeing start to deteriorate such that they would need time off  or perhaps different working patterns. 3. be able to explain their issues to someone who may have little or no understanding of mental health /mental wellbeing and the challenges this gives an individual.

They are also likely to have limited knowledge about WAP/WRAP plans.  But if the individual themselves is familiar with their own needs and can explain them it most often removes the concerns of the employer and more importantly enables that employer to support the individual in the workplace so that they can minimise the risk of that individuals wellbeing becoming compromised.”

Alongside being Director of Employee Experience and SMART working consultant and Peoplespace, Lesley is also a mental health workshop facilitiator for Mindful Employer.

Philippa Hollings, 2nd year student & mental health advocate

“Firstly, recognise if someone went into an interview with a broken arm, they are just as employable as you. Having mental health issue shouldn’t never be a barrier your employability, you are just as eligible as the next contender. Our generation are trained to follow a ‘path’ of a-levels, university, employment. There are other options, there is no set ‘path’ a student should follow. Having a degree gives you the power and control in the labour market thus your employability powers are stronger than those without.

To take time out is not a sign of weakness, simply the education system and pressures around for our generation are extensive and exhausting. Though there is ever increasing acceptance for mental health issues, and the stigma surrounding it is improving, though needless to say: informing an employer of diagnosis of depression, eating disorders, or any other issue is scary. You don’t want to risk the chance of employment. An issue would arise however when your issues get involved with your ability to perform your job alongside your peers. For an employer to be aware of issues will improve your relationship with them and they will be able to support your needs, for example understanding a ‘mental health day’ off.

By being aware, the employer can change the environment to make you more comfortable, in an environment more settling. For example, changing working hours, the environment, allocating for doctor’s appointments at unusual times, and generally becoming more aware that it is an issue; stimulating them to reach out to other employees. It is important to prepare yourself that not all employers/firms are aware of mental health issues. It is a relatively ‘newly’ spoken about issue thus by speaking up you can help those around you, and the employer to know how to accommodate for differing issues. If you feel disadvantaged due to your mental health problem: this is discrimination, as would a racial, sexual, or homophobic situation, do not let this get in the way of your chances for employment.”

Philippa is a final year undergraduate at Loughborough University and Mental Health Advocate.

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