Take Off: taking on workplace discrimination
30 March 2017
This story is about our Live Well Kent service. It helps people manage their mental health and physical or emotional wellbeing before things reach crisis point.
Take Off has a fresh approach to helping people with mental and physical health problems overcome workplace discrimination – it hires them.
The charity has 40 members of staff, all of whom have been diagnosed with mental or physical health problems.
“People can come to us knowing what we offer is designed, developed and delivered by those who’ve had similar experiences,” says Take Off director Mark Kilbey, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Personal experience is key to all of Take Off’s activities. It runs everything from depression, eating disorder and talking groups to cooking workshops and art sessions - all suggested by its clients.
It aims to give people more control over their health. “By sharing experiences with each other, both staff and clients find better ways of coping with their conditions,” says Mark.
Take Off takes a similar approach to employment. Mark, who has worked for the police, NHS and county councils, has faced workplace discrimination because of his condition but says having a paid job can benefit recovery.
“That’s why we pay all our staff. Too often, people who have had mental health problems are expected to volunteer. We feel if you are able to undertake training and offer a professional service, you deserve to be paid,” he explains.
“A lot of people here had meaningful careers before they became unwell. When you take on someone who has recovered from mental or physical ill health, they’ll be resilient and know how to keep themselves well. If employers listen to their needs they could have an exceptional employee on their hands.”
He also explains that having a job gives people confidence and a sense of self worth, important for their recovery.
Take Off is part of Live Well Kent – an umbrella of mental health and wellbeing organisations across the county. When somebody gets in touch with Live Well Kent, it connects them to a network of charities and community organisations in their area.
Wayne, 46, was an IT consultant for major supermarkets, universities and hospitals. Unfortunately, his bipolar disorder led to workplace discrimination.
He explains: “I’d been doing really good work for one employer but hit a patch of depression. When I came back, they started questioning my judgement. All the credit I’d build up didn’t mean anything any more.”
The experience led Wayne to keep his mental health secret from some future employers (“Being secretive causes its own stresses,” he says). Others knew about his bipolar disorder when he was hired but didn’t know how to support him when things took a turn for the worse.
A year ago, Wayne contacted Live Well Kent and was referred Take Off. He is now works as their IT expert.
“I’ve been using my old skills and it’s given me back my confidence. I’m also training so I can help others cope with their mental health.”