Cara Hall About Mental Health and Employment
Antibody and Biology Specialist.
Mental Health Advocate with ADHD diagnosis and 12 years working across different industries.
Skilled in Communication, Custom Solutions, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Proteomics and Genomics, and Strong Presentation.
- About Cara Hall.
- Should job seekers disclose their mental health condition in an interview?
- Why they might choose not to?
- Should job seekers mention their conditions on their resume or explain the gap?
- How to prepare for your first mental health interview?
- Where can such job seekers get additional support?
- What are the qualities of a mental health friendly employer?
- What are some things to watch out for?
- Advice for relatives and friends who want to support job seekers with a Mental Health Condition?
1. Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
To start off in a cheesy way, from a young age I loved animals and science. I went through phases of wanting to be a vet, a marine biologist, a forensic scientist and finally, when it came to university I decided on Zoology. I opted for an Undergraduate Masters.
Partly due to it having an academic year-long research programme and partly due to not having to find funding for a full Masters. I graduated with a 2.1 as a Master of Zoology with Animal Behaviour.
I tried to go on to a Ph.D. position, my trouble was I was interested in everything. I wasn’t focused enough on any area and often got overlooked for someone with more specific interests. Funded PhDs are hard to come by as it is. I understand their reasoning but it was very frustrating.
I managed to get a job before graduating at the University of Leicester as a research assistant. 2 years in and I was depressed (I’d had a particularly difficult year at home) and also came to the sad realization that academic research wasn’t for me. I love research but with the constant contracts, luck and lack of stability I just couldn’t see how I would manage.
I’d spent my life waiting to be here, why wasn’t I happy? What else do I do? I through myself into looking at any and all jobs out there. What was I able to do, what sounded interesting, did I need extra training? Eventually, I found Scientific Sales.
Permanent job, good salary and benefits and all the skills I had gained could be put to good use but I didn’t have a sales background.
Scientific Sales is one of those careers that once you are in you are IN. Getting in however is a different story.
I did research, I talked to people already in the industry, I shadowed people for the experience. I did the interview after interview hearing “We just want someone with more experience” until eventually there was a company willing to give me a chance. I have moved companies since but I will always be grateful for that first chance. Here I am now as an Antibody Specialist.
For this interview, the focus is on mental health. I mentioned above that I have experienced depression, this was also coupled with anxiety.
Often these go hand in hand. Unfortunately, because I sought help with these, I had this label with my GP no matter what else I felt. Yes, I experienced these, but I did not have them as an illness. This period sparked a long road of self-discovery, questioning, and confusion. I’ve been through an autism assessment and a lot of endless thoughts and questioning. None of it fitting, none of it helping.
My partner is an amazing person and a mental health nurse, he doesn’t treat me but allows me to explore and bounce ideas. I had the idea that maybe it was ADHD after reading more about women with ADHD and their symptoms.
After a discussion with a consultant specializing in Neurodevelopmental disorders and a trial of medication, it was confirmed, at age 28, that I have ADHD.
It is still a struggle, finding the right medication and dose, trying to figure it all out, exploring other options and therapies. But it’s a start, and hopefully, this interview is too (end on a cheesy note too, why not!).
2. Should job seekers disclose their mental health condition in an interview?
This truly is a question only you can answer. You need to weight up the pros and cons and think about how comfortable you are with people knowing.
Personally, I do. I try to be as open and honest about my mental health as possible. This way the employer knows who they would be getting and where I am with it all.
If I don’t get the job because of this then clearly, I don’t want to be employed by someone who can’t/won’t/doesn’t want to understand and help. This is a tough one to accept sometimes but being with an employer that wants to know more or wants to help will make a huge difference to your working experience.
How you approach it is up to you. I am very upfront but highlight the skills that, for me, ADHD brings me and explain where I may struggle and what they can do to help. A kind of Best/Worst skills analysis. It gives them a snippet of understanding.
Remember, after explaining this or at the end of an interview always ask if they have further questions or they need you to clarify anything. Help them understand and see that it is ok. Normalize it.
Now it can be very different in different countries. I am based in the UK but in the US you may need to be more careful depending on what state/city you are in and what laws and statutes are in place. Always check this and know what your legal situation is.
If you have direct evidence of discrimination you may be able to seek further legal help, however, getting real physical evidence can be hard so be careful with how you communicate. I find an email to be best as you can save and print this. Anything promised/said by phone ask to be emailed also.
You do not have to mention your mental condition. If you don’t want to this is perfectly ok! Sometimes you can get around the conversation and still get help by showing your positives and struggles and understanding the ways around them.
Example: I have ADHD and easily distracted, I could just mention that I find it harder to work around people and get distracted easily so I may need headphones (either I take them or they provide them) so that I can be more productive.
If you are worried about discrimination this can be a good way to avoid that conversation and still get the help that you may need.
3. Why they might choose not to?
It is worth remembering that you don’t have to, nobody can or should force you to. The employer should also not ask outright if you have any disabilities. I know in the UK this is a question that they are not allowed to ask, in the US and elsewhere you may want to check. If they are asking this question though, it may be a red flag.
If you aren’t comfortable telling people then that is your choice. If you are scared your current or future employer may treat you badly, not give you the job or try to push you out of the company then these are all valid and understandable concerns.
Rejection is scary and sometimes when people don’t understand something then they can lash out or try to avoid the situation.
The decision is completely yours. The only thing I would be careful of is if they don’t know about a condition then they may not be as open to helping you, and to be frank you can have a better legal standing if you have been upfront from the beginning (though again, check your laws and rights).
If you are at the beginning of a diagnosis you may not want to disclose this information as you yourself may not fully understand the condition and its effects yet.
This is also ok, sometimes companies can help with this via occupational health or in the UK sometimes you can use the Access to Work Scheme. There are similar things available in some areas of the US with a quick google search.
Sometimes Location can make a big difference, mostly in the US but also in the UK. Major cities will have better and easier to access resources than areas more isolated or far away from capitals.
At the end of it all, the decision to disclose a mental condition is yours and yours alone. Consider the rights and laws, how you feel about telling people about it and what kind of employer/employment do you want. What is best for you?
4. Should job seekers mention their conditions on their resume or explain the gap?
Again, this is a decision for you to make. There are various CV tips on how to “hide” your gap if it is only a few months. I don’t feel that your mental health condition should be on a CV. If you did need to take time off then you could put it in the gap with a brief explanation of why you were out of work.
Be honest. Lying on a CV is never advisable. You could, however, disguise the break as taking time out to work on yourself, your mental health and then mention that you are now capable, in control and still an ideal candidate.
This can be tricky but it is always worth getting your CV checked and bouncing ideas and paragraphs off people you know (or a professional service if you can) to get a feel for how it comes across.
You don’t want to come across as incapable but that you are someone in control of your decisions and mental health. Looking after yourself is important and necessary, sometimes this means taking time out for yourself so that you can come back to work stronger and more in control.
A different place that you can address gaps or mental health is your cover letter. This is an opportunity to explain more or mention other key things.
Mental health can be a good one to mention here, it makes the prospective employer aware and you can already begin to address any concern they may have.
A CV is a snapshot of your experience and skills. I would not mention my condition on my CV. It should be concise, easy to read and fast to process.
Once you do have job experience things like “Hobbies” should not be on there and neither should your conditions or disabilities. You want to keep it clean and attractive.
A CV is a tool to get you an interview. Once you have the interview then you can really show them who you are and what you can do in better detail. Get your foot in the door, get them interested, then let them get to know you.
If you haven’t had a gap in employment then wait until the interview to inform them of your condition, if you want to.
This way you can read their reaction and body language to see if they are an employer you want to work for. You can also address questions and concerns in the interview and show them throughout that you are capable and ready for employment.
5. How to prepare for your first mental health interview?
There are a lot of amazing tips for interview preparation online. My one key piece of advice is to prepare. Prepare and then prepare some more. I take a lot into an interview. I do research on the company, on the people interviewing me (if I know them in advance) and I plan my own mini-interview.
One important thing to remember is they are not only interviewing you for the position, but you are also interviewing them for if you want to work for them. Look up reviews of the company, maybe if you know someone there ask what it is like.
Prepare a list of questions of things you want to know about the company. Look into their recent news, products, pipeline etc and ask them about it.
Ask the people interviewing you why they work here, what do and don’t they like. I’ve asked how do they deal with people who have mental health conditions.
I have documents, printouts, notes, questions, etc. I prepare as much as I can so I know I can tackle any question.
If they throw me a curve ball and ask something that I don’t know I say “I’m not sure of that, let me look into it and I’ll get back to you” and then do get back to them!
You need to show them that you can do this job so put yourself in the role already, make a plan and have ideas. Align yourself with how they do things and show them that you are already ready for this job.
They need to show you that they are good to work for and will support you so ask questions and really find out the true aspects of working for them.
Are they supportive? What are the realities of the role? What are the parts most people don’t like? Where are the pitfalls? If they don’t like answering those questions then maybe that says more about them than if they do. Don’t get stuck in a job you will hate.
6. Where can such job seekers get additional support?
For the UK there may be local services for advice but the government website is also very helpful. There is Access to Work schemes, Occupational Health, NHS counseling. Unions can also be a helpful place for help and support but they aren’t for everyone.
In America, there can be similar but again it can very much depend on location. Apparently, New York and California are great places to work and have good rights and support schemes. Other more remote places seem to have fewer resources and/or rights.
If you can’t find additional support or are nervous to seek it the one place that is always there is the internet. Google is an amazing tool. Use it. There are online groups for help with a huge number of things. YouTube is actually becoming an amazing tool for help with advice and conditions.
I currently support a fantastic YouTuber for ADHD via Patreon and they also have a discord server for supporters to chat, ask for advice, share experiences etc. Explore your options, talk to people both in-person and online.
Check out places like LinkedIn, Reddit, YouTube, Patreon, Google and I am sure there are many, many more places.
Another avenue is coaching. There are many forms of coaching. Life coaches, career coaches, sales coaches, mental condition coaches, and so on. Many of these can work with you online and over the phone so it may be worth seeking one directly or sometimes there are charities that can help you with accessing this.
7. What are the qualities of a mental health-friendly employer?
A lot of this you can tell via interview. Of course, things can change in the workplace as time goes on but there is nothing you can do to really anticipate that.
Look at body language, speech and what feelings do you get from them.
Some good things to keep an eye out for are:
- Do they ask open questions?
- Are they genuinely curious to learn more?
- Are they trying to figure out how they can help?
- Do they ask you how you are doing?
- Are they trying to seek how they can use your skills in the best way rather than focusing on what you struggle with?
- Are they asking what adjustments you need so they can figure out how best to help?
- Do they know the laws, policies, and expectations of the company?
- Are they an employer that will focus on your positives rather than your negatives?
- Are they actively listening (there is a huge difference between hearing and listening)?
- Are they willing and want to increase their understanding to help you?
- Have they encountered this before, what did they do in that situation?
All of this can help you build a picture of if they may be a good employer to work for to support you in the workplace, get the best from you and help you be a happy employee.
8. What are some things to watch out for?
Most of the things to watch out for are opposites of the above, things like:
- Are they asking closed or probing questions?
- What is their body language? Closed? Protective? Defensive?
- Are they only asking about what you struggle with and the negatives?
- Are they asking you if you’ve taken time off because of this?
- Asking if this has negatively impacted your work before.
- Not listening or not open to changing their minds.
- Pushing buttons or trying to push you/test you to get a response.
- Making things more difficult than they should be to “test” you.
Now, some of these may be curiosity or them being unsure because they want to prepare themselves or any number of things. You should see how they are responding, check their body language and if you are uncomfortable then maybe this is a sign that this employer isn’t for you.
9. Do you have any advice for relatives and friends who want to support job seekers with a Mental Health Condition?
Having a friend or relative with a mental health condition can be a challenge. It can be difficult to understand them or know how to help, especially if you have never had to deal with this before. Some key tips from me are:
- Try to understand the condition, research it.
- See if there is a support group for you and again, research it!
- Talk to them, ask them about the condition and how it affects them.
- Listen. Really listen and don’t judge or interrupt.
- See if you can find or know of support for them that they don’t know about.
- Don’t push them to do anything, their life is theirs and they have their own choices. You may think you know what’s best but pushing someone into something they aren’t ready for is detrimental. Let them come to their own decisions with as much information as possible.
- Read CVs and cover letters/applications.
- Discuss with them how they may approach their mental health condition with their employer.
- Normalize the condition, it is ok to talk about it and ask about it in a genuine manner.
- Empower them. They can do this but may have a lack of confidence.
- Don’t make them feel disabled. Everyone has struggled, and maybe they have more than most, that does not mean they aren’t capable.
- Revealing a condition can be scary and make them feel vulnerable, be open, and non-judgemental.
- Help them understand themselves and the condition and help them get control back. Don’t de-skill them, encourage them.
10. What is your top tip for job seekers experiencing mental health conditions?
This is hard. I am not sure there is just one top tip but I’ve come up with a list if things that I feel are important to know:
- It is ok to not be ok.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself, it is a journey.
- Understand your condition and learn how to work with it, not against it.
- There can be many positives to a condition as well as negatives. Focus on the positive and see what help you can get for the negatives.
- It is ok to ask for help.
- No really, it is good to get help. It helps you to be in control of your situation rather than allowing your condition to rule you. This may take time, and that is ok.
- Be honest with yourself.
- Don’t allow ignorant people to make you feel like you are less or worthless.
- The more you understand, the more you can help others understand.
- Know what you are dealing with and know your limits.
- Stick up for yourself. It can be so hard but you do not deserve to be treated in certain ways. Know this and don’t stand for it.
- Normalize it. It is ok, it is fine to talk about it and it is ok when people don’t know about it. Help them if they are open and if they aren’t. Well, then they aren’t worth it.
- You are worthy because of this condition, not in spite of it.
- Forgive yourself.
- Embrace the good, work on the bad, and take time for yourself.
- Self-Care is super important. For everyone, but especially for those with a mental health condition. You need to look after yourself for yourself, those around you, and for if you want to work well. Pushing yourself past your limits will prevent you from being productive for longer than if you took 30 mins just to take care of yourself.
- Keep going. It is hard, it can be so hard to push through rejection, your condition, and any lack of confidence. But keep going.
- Assess and adjust. Is what you are doing not working? Why? What else can I do? Who can help me?
Job seeking, working, and careers can be intimidating. Just remember this. Nothing is permanent. Having a hard time? You will get through it.
Don’t like your job? Find a new one. Don’t like your career? What else can you do that you will enjoy? There are options and decisions. They won’t always be easy but for me, the pursuit of potential happiness and enjoyment is always worth it above being stuck in misery.
I wish you luck and strength on your journey and look after yourself.