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Looking for work

Last updated Thursday, 21st Feb 2013

For some people, the thought of working again after a period of mental ill health or when living with mental health needs, can feel overwhelming. But there are many people who have issues with their mental health who get back to work and experience a real sense of purpose, belonging and increased confidence.

This section will help you think through the steps you could take to get back into work. It also provides you with information about organisations, schemes and helplines which can help you.

What kind of work?

A good starting point is to think about the kind of work you would like to do. You may also want to think about where you would like to work, what support you might need and how your financial situation might change. You can get help from your Jobcentre Plus or from a range of employment and vocational services across Kent. Jobcentre Plus is the government’s agency which supports people of working age to get work, and helps employers to fill their vacancies.

Jobsearch and Jobcoach

Jobcentre Plus has launched an online support and information service to help people find work. Jobsearch provides online advice on how and where to look for jobs, and how best to approach employers. It also tells you about the help that Jobcentre Plus advisers can give you. Jobcoach gives you five key steps to help you find work, including how to plan your job hunt and sell yourself to prospective employers.

Medway libraries - Looking for work

Medway libraries have a variety of resources to help jobseekers with their search, including books about how to write CVs, free access to computers and drop in sessions aswell as support groups such as TNG and Reach out 2 Work. Click here for more information.

Pathways to Work

Pathways to Work is a programme which helps people to get work if they are receiving Employment and Support Allowance or an incapacity benefit because of a health condition or disability. This can include people with mental health needs.

Vocational profiling

Jobcentre Plus or employment and vocational services may offer to support you to undertake a ‘vocational profile’. Vocational profiling is a process where you think about your hopes for the future, your personality, skills and strengths, your previous job experiences and the things that interest you. Once you have gathered this information, you are better placed to think about the kind of job that might best suit you.

Types of work

There are a number of types of work each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Voluntary work

Many people find that voluntary work is a good starting point for getting into work and some find it increases their chances of getting paid employment. You can do as much voluntary work as you wish without your benefits being affected, and you should have your out-of-pocket expenses paid. Find our more about volunteering in our Give section.

Supported employment

With supported employment you will be supported by Jobcentre Plus or an employment and vocational service to find a job which matches your skills, abilities and interests. You should be offered support with your learning and development needs and be provided with training to undertake the role. Your new employer would also be helped to ensure that they are able to support you at work sensitively.

Employment and vocational services in Kent are committed to working in partnership with you, your GP and employers to help you find a job and remain employed. They will be able to help you work out what impact supported employment may have on any benefits you receive.

Part-time or full-time work and flexible working

It can be helpful to think about what kind of work pattern would be best for you before you start to look for work. Some people find that part-time work enables them to ease back into the routine and pressure of a job and gives them the flexibility they need to continue with therapy appointments, undertake training and so on. For others, full-time work is more suitable. Sometimes this is because of the impact working has on their entitlement to benefits.

Flexible working is when your pattern of working is adapted to take account of your needs. For example, you might work staggered hours, starting and ending your working day at different times to fit in with other commitments or you might job share which means that you would share a job with another person.

Applying for jobs

Once you have decided what kind of work you would like to do, you will need to complete an application form or send a curriculum vitae (CV) which summarises your work history and your skills and experience.

Job description and person specification

When an employer wants to recruit a new member of staff, it usually produces a job description which sets out what the job is and a person specification which describes the skills, abilities and experience required by the person who is going to do the job. When you apply for a job, employers may send you a job description and a person specification in addition to an application form. This will help you ensure that you have a better understanding of the job and whether you have the qualities and skills needed to do it.

Your skills and experience

Your mental health experience may have provided you with skills that are valuable to an employer. For example, you may have become more sensitive to other people’s situations and problems and more able to see things from their perspective which would help you work with and relate to different types of people. You may have developed your problem-solving skills or your diplomacy skills. Perhaps you have found you have a creative side or a skill previously unknown to you.

Telling an employer about your mental health

There are advantages and disadvantages to telling your employer about your mental health. On most application forms you are asked to tell the employer if you have a disability. Many people with a mental health condition do not think of themselves as 'disabled' - but they may have their rights supported by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (DDA).

Mental illness is classed as a disability under the act, which means that an employer should not treat someone less favourably because of their mental health issue without a justifiable reason. If someone has a mental illness which has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities then they are likely to be covered. The act also covers people who have had a disability in the past and considers the effects of an impairment on a person. For example, someone with a mild form of depression with only minor effects may not be covered, while someone with severe depression with substantial effects on their daily life is likely to be considered as disabled under the act.


  • If you declare that you have a disability you may be automatically given an interview as many organisations are trying to increase the number of disabled people working for them.
  • If your mental health condition is classified as a disability you are covered under the DDA and you have a right to fair treatment and the prospective employer must make reasonable adjustments to enable you to do the job.
  • Disclosing that you have a mental health problem allows you to control how this is presented to your employer. For instance, you may have particularly strong interpersonal skills or problem-solving skills if you have had mental health difficulties and you could tell them in this way.
  • Admitting the difficulties you have had and highlighting the ways you have overcome those difficulties shows maturity and determination. Employers may be impressed by these qualities.


  • Telling an employer that about your mental health may lead to unfair treatment. For example, you may not be given an interview or may not be offered the job. Although employers are not allowed to treat you unfavourably under the DDA if your mental health condition is regarded as a disability, it can be hard to prove that you were not offered a job because of your mental health needs.
  • You may be worried about the stigma associated with mental illness and how this might affect you in the workplace if your employer knows about your mental health issues.

An obligation to answer honestly

You may feel that your mental health difficulties have no direct effect on your ability to do the job you have applied for and so do not want to declare it. Some application forms ask you to give information about your health. If you do not answer these questions honestly and were still offered the job, your employer would be able to end your employment if they found out you were not telling the truth.

You also have a legal responsibility to tell an employer if you have a condition which may affect your health and safety or the health and safety of others in the workplace. For example, if you take medication that makes you drowsy it could be a health and safety hazard to you and others if you operate machinery or drive as part of your job. If you choose to tell the employer about your mental health you may do so on the application form, or send a covering letter. Some people choose to wait until the interview.

Health questionnaires and examinations

Before offering you a job, the employer may ask you to complete a health questionnaire. This is to make sure you are well enough to work and find out what support you may need when in work. If you have told the employer about your mental health, you may be asked to undergo a medical examination. You may find the doctor meeting with you does not have specialist knowledge of mental health.

If you are supported by a GP, psychiatrist or psychologist, you may find it helpful to take a letter from one of them which explains the nature of your condition and your fitness to work. If you are not offered the job because of the results of the medical examination you can ask for full details and why you have not been accepted for the job.

Under the DDA, employers must be prepared make adjustments for the employment of a disabled person – which includes someone with a mental health problem. This could include offering flexible working arrangements and providing additional support and supervision.

If you would like to find out more about disability rights legislation and whether it applies to your situation, you may want to contact The Disability Law Service. Their website has information sheets and they run a free advice line.


Starting work may affect your right to benefits or the amount you get. Find out more about how benefits might be affected when you start work.

In work

Once you have been successful in finding a job, you may want to think about looking after your mental health while in work.

    Mental Health and Work A-Z