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Firms ‘should not fear’ mental illnesses

  • February 19, 2008
  • Bruce Bromley

The Age February 19, 2008 – 8:37AM

Business needs to get over a fear of employing people with mental illness, the federal government says.

Of the 7,012 people receiving a disability support pension, only 10 per cent are participating in the workforce and almost one quarter have a mental illness, parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services, Bill Shorten, said.

He said the government was committed to lifting the number of people with a mental illness in the workforce.

“The challenge is to deal with employer-phobia about employing people with mental illness,” Mr Shorten told ABC Radio.

“Some people think that if you employ someone with a mental illness in a workplace that they will be dangerous, or some people think that other staff will get upset.

“The reality is that people with mental illness are capable of participating and holding down work and contributing, and we have just got to get over the phobias.”

Mr Shorten said he would talk with business to allay employers’ concerns.

The most important part of that was ensuring mentors were available to provide assistance, he said.

Meanwhile in the ACT on Tuesday, Mr Shorten will launch the 100th MyTime (MyTime) Peer Support Group for parents of young children with a chronic medical condition or disability.

“As anyone who has had children with disabilities knows, it’s a stressful experience – it is a loving experience but it’s stressful,” Mr Shorten said.

“So the opportunity for families to get together – for their kids to be together but also for parents to be together to get the sense you are not on your own – I think it’s fantastic.”

In 2006-07, the Howard government committed $9 million during four years towards the MyTime program.

“The budget contains some money for four years of funding,” Mr Shorten said.

“Obviously the government is very committed to fighting inflation.

“On the other hand, the government also understands that programs like this are very effective for their dollars.”