Landing a job a tough task for China's mentally challenged

CHINA - Cao Mingquan said he had four jobs since 2005, but none of them lasted long.

Cao, 39, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2003 and found work while he was recovering at home in 2005, selling MP3s in a shopping mall. But he quit after he quarrelled with other salesmen.

He later became a real estate agent, but that just lasted for a month. He then worked as a clerk in two supermarkets. One closed down, and the other fired him when it found out about his condition as he suffered a relapse.

Living on a government subsidy and support from his parents, Cao is in a training programme in Beijing's Changping district, which helps people who are mentally challenged recover at home.

Anding Hospital, a mental health hospital in Beijing, adapted a rehabilitation programme developed by experts in the United States and introduced it to the city.

"It is designed to help people manage regular medication, monitor their own mental health condition and improve their social interaction before they eventually get a job and become financially independent," said Sun Lihong, a psychiatrist and one of the trainers.

For Cao, these skills are vital.

"I am at a loss on how to communicate with others," said Cao, who hopes to be a bus or taxi driver.

However, his doctor told him he may never be able to do his dream job due to the medication he takes, which can make him drowsy.

Guo Hongli, a doctor in Anding Hospital who takes part in monitoring the programme, said it takes much more than a single programme to help people recover from mental challenges to get a job.

According to Guo, there are between 70,000 and 80,000 people living with severe mental disorders in Beijing, including 40,000 registered with schizophrenia.

"From my experience, no more than 10 per cent of them can be employed. Also, companies do not want to hire them, fearing that they will suffer a relapse," he said.

The experience of, "Lucy", 44, who is recovering from bipolar disorders echoed Guo's words.

She was diagnosed in 2005 and hospitalized in 2007, which cost her job in an international company.

According to Zhu Yihua, a psychiatrist in a community healthcare centre in Haidian district where the woman is recovering by teaching English to other patients, Lucy found a job later. But the stress proved too much and she came back to the centre.

"A job may be harmful because of all the pressure," Lucy said.

The centre introduces people gradually into the neighborhood to build up their social confidence. But they are not always welcomed.

Haidian district rented a house for five people to wash cars in 2011. They were doing fine at first, but later their customers discovered they have had mental health problems and refused to come back, Zhu said.

"If you disclose your health condition to your potential employer, they will act like you are an alien creature and turn you away," Lucy said.

The mental health law that took effect on Wednesday stipulates that employers should offer people recovering from mental problems jobs that fit their ability, but it is difficult to strike a balance between what's "fitting" and what patients like Lucy and Cao want.