Filippo Savoia is a factory hand at Surplus Recycling Solutions, a Melbourne-based electronic components recycler. Like about 30% of the workforce there, he lives with a disability. Savoia has schizophrenia, which he says reduced his confidence and his motivation to work.

He started his job in March and it has given him a sense of purpose, a “reason to get up and get going, and a workplace that just lets you get on and do your job”. “Before that, I had lost all motivation,” he said.

A 24-year-old supervisor at SRS, Indi Batth, hired Savoia. SRS already employed a number of people with physical disabilities, but Savoia was the first, and only, employee with a mental illness. Batth told SmartCompany he was approached by WISE Employment. Because he had good experiences employing workers with physical disabilities, he decided to give Savoia a go.

“We thought we’d need help from WISE to do it, but Filippo came out fantastic,” Batth said. “We needed very little help.”

“When Filippo first started he worked so hard he didn’t have any breaks, including lunch breaks, he just kept going. We asked Filippo to take breaks. Today, he’s probably one of our best workers.”

Today is World Mental Health Day. Mental illness affects one in five Australians in any given year, which translates to over four million Australians. Many will quickly recover, but for some, their illness will be persistent and enduring.

People with a mental illness battle the stigma of their condition, despite many holding down positions of authority and trust. There is no legal obligation to disclose a mental illness to a potential employer.

But the view that mental illness is an impediment to employment is slowly changing. Research suggests younger managers like Batth are more likely to reject the stigma and hire mentally ill staff.

What particularly impressed Batth was Savoia’s enthusiasm. “In my experience, if somebody’s keen, it’s good to give them a go,” he said. “The ones who are keen, they work a lot harder than a lot of fully capable people.”

Research released yesterday by not-for-profit employment services provider WISE Employment and conducted by McNair Ingenuity Research found Gen Y managers, born between the early 1980s and into the mid-’90s were the most willing to employ someone with a mental illness. McNair surveyed 276 small businesses, and found 42% of Gen Y managers said they were likely to hire someone with a mental illness. That figure fell as the age of the surveyed manager rose. Among Baby Boomer managers, born between 1949 and 1964, the figure declined to 16%. When it comes to managers overall, only 27% said they were willing to give someone with a mental illness a go.

Nearly two-thirds of managers said they believed people with a mental illness would be unpredictable or unstable, 61% of hiring managers said it was a reason not to hire. Respondents could choose multiple answers, and close to half, or 47%, also said they believed workers with a mental illness wouldn’t mix well with other staff, while the same number said they would be unable to do the job.

Matthew Lambelle, WISE Employment general manager of strategy and alliance, says these attitudes do not match reality. Asked why younger managers were more likely to have an open mind towards mental illness, Lambelle nominated the period of time they grew up in.

“In recent years, there’s better and more education on the issue,” he said. “There’s a lot more understanding too. That has increased awareness, which leads to an open-mindedness to see past mental illness, and instead look at merit.”

“That’s really positive. We think such attitudes can only become more common. Work is so fundamental to day-to-day prosperity. Bening denied access through discrimination and exclusion doesn’t help the cause, it doesn’t help individuals, and it doesn’t help the community.”

Employers are busy, and have varying degrees of understanding regarding mental health and mental illness. However, Lambelle says, many are also unaware of the resources that exist to support them in getting the most out of workers with mental illness. “There are national networks, employment services similar to ours, which can provide support to get the best out of people. There are 1900 locations nationally that can help employers with this,” he said.

*This article was originally published at SmartCompany

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