Mental health and work during Covid-19

Covid-19 hit Gatwick Airport (and the rest of the civil aviation sector) pretty damn hard. Travel across borders, and even internal flights, ground to a halt as the country went into lock-down. The last I heard, 44,000 people were at risk of losing their jobs or being negatively effected by the pandemic (reduced hours, changed contracts etc).

I personally lost my job working at Gatwick Airport. The company I worked for jumped the gun when it came to redundancies in the face of Covid-19. Instead of allowing us all to stay employed and on furlough whilst the government figured out how to take the country forward, the company instantly initiated redundancy procedures.

Not long after (though entirely unrelated) I ended up having a breakdown and I ended up in the local mental health hospital. The company had the good graces to keep me employed whilst I was in hospital but a few weeks after I was released, I was given the boot along with everyone else.

I started applications almost instantly and I spent my days scrolling through job boards, rapid-tapping out cover letters and tweaking my curriculum vitae to suit the needs of the job advert.

I applied for a Train Dispatcher role based at my local train station and I was shocked when, a few days later, the company got in touch with me and I was hurled through into training within the week. I took the tests, I passed and I looked forward to a well-paying job on the railway network.

And then I had a medical. A private medical company performed all the necessary tests but stopped short when they saw I was on medication. They asked what it was for and, seeing no reason to lie, told them it was for depression. They needed more information before they could sign me off to perform safety critical roles. They give me a form to hand to my GP and send me on my way. As soon as I get home, I head to the doctor’s and hand in the form.

And this is where it all starts unravelling.

I get contacted by the GP the next week and they want £100. Apparently that is how much it costs to get the form filled out with all the necessary information, signed, and sent off. At first I decline and try to get my soon-to-be-employer to cough up the money. They refuse. I shouldn’t be surprised since they wouldn’t even pay for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). That’s agency for you.

So, I cough up the £100 and find out a week later that I have been told that I cannot perform safety critical roles. It turns out, no one wants to put me next to a train track for fear that I would throw myself in front of a train. Either that or they somehow think that my medication makes me despondent (it doesn’t).

The whole thing has left me pretty fucking bitter. First of all, I cannot work in a sector for which I have a great amount of enthusiasm for. That is the main crux of this entire affair. Secondly, I am furious that I have been denied work because of my history with mental health issues.

Just like everyone else, I need to work. But it is not just work. It is everything else that comes with it. I want to get life insurance so that, if anything happens to me, my partner will be looked after. (I am not allowed life insurance because I am technically a suicide risk. I was told recently that I had to wait at least five years since my last incident until I was eligible for life insurance. That has since been pushed back. When I talk to insurers now, they all seem to get extremely vague on the issue and tell me that nothing is available in the foreseeable future…fantastic.)

The £100 is another thorn in my pride. At a time when I do not have work, I can’t afford to be paying that kind of money. Another thought nags at me. It might be wrong but it keeps coming back time and again: is this discrimination? Am I being pigeonholed because of my medical history?

Answer – YES.

I don’t say that because I am feeling sorry for myself or because I want to be seen as some kind of victim (I would hate either of those things) but because I have experienced mental health setbacks for the last four years and I have suffered the consequences of those setbacks within the world of work.

Although there have been major motions to try and make mental health as treatable as physical health, there is still a lot left to be desired when it comes to employer mentality. In 2018, I had better luck. After being admitted to hospital, I got a technician role within an airport and I worked the best job I have ever had. I was allowed to stand in areas in which Boeing 747’s taxied and not once did I throw myself into the engines propellers. Quite the opposite – that role pulled me from a dark place and rebuilt my confidence.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 rendered me redundant and I am now without a job. I had an opportunity to perform a role that would have made me extremely happy, would have provided some kind of structure that I could see toward developing a career. However, as mentioned, I failed the medical and therefore the job was taken away from me. I guess I understand. After all, they don’t want to hire someone who they think might become track meat.

But with such restrictions in place, is there any wonder that there is stigma around mental health? I have openly declared my mental health issues and the response is to be sidelined. Is it any wonder that people with mental health issues shutter themselves away? My partner raised this point to me as I was skulking one evening and I couldn’t fault her logic. People want to stay in jobs. People want to be treated the same as everyone else.

I felt confident that by speaking about my issues and being open, as I was in 2018, I would be given the all-clear and allowed to go into work. Instead, the very opposite happened.

I’ll finish with an excerpt from an article I read the other day. It is a summary of the effects of Covid-19 on mental health. It is this:

“Studies indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, depression and insomnia in the general population and among healthcare professionals. Social isolation, anxiety, fear of contagion, uncertainty, chronic stress and economic difficulties may lead to the development or exacerbation of depressive, anxiety, substance use and other psychiatric disorders in vulnerable populations including individuals with pre-existing psychiatric disorders and people who reside in high COVID-19 prevalence areas.”

It is going to be a depressing winter.

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