The World’s Maddest Job Interview is something like a cross between The Apprentice and a mental health documentary. It charts a week-long interview process in which three employers involved in business both big and small attempt to find the best three candidates for an unspecified job. The catch is that some of the candidates suffer, or have suffered, from mental health conditions including depression, OCD and eating disorders. The employers do not know who has had a mental illness, and to add some extra interest there are also two professionals who work with mental health – Alessandra Lemma, a psychoanalyst, and Dr Gareth Smith, a consultant psychiatrist – attempting to divine the psychiatric background of each of the interviewees.
‘One in five people who disclose a mental health condition to their employer say it has cost them their job’, the show says. In this vein, interviews with the three employers display two out of three of them to be profoundly inflexible in their attitudes towards potential employees suffering from mental health conditions, saying that they simply would not hire them. They cite concerns with potential financial losses, as well as a perceived lack of reliability. The direction in which the show is going to go is clear from the start – they’re going to prove them wrong.
The participants succeed in several major goals. First, they show that most people, on the face of it, cannot tell the difference between someone with and someone without a mental health condition. Second, they prove that having a mental illness doesn’t necessarily disadvantage you; indeed, the candidates who had the most stand-out skills, who were the most noticeable, were always those who were suffering or who had suffered in the past. Ben, a participant who had suffered with OCD in the past to the point where he had been sectioned and sedated in a psychiatric unit, said explicitly that he had managed to put his obsessive tendencies to work when utilising his impressive memory, as well as in methodical, logical thinking. It raises the question of whether mental illness may sometimes be the price we pay for cognitive adaptations which are otherwise advantageous. It’s an odd notion, and one that could do with a good deal of exploration, but it doesn’t seem totally groundless.
Finally, the programme manages to show that the main barrier to understanding mental illness is simply lack of familiarity. The one employer who displays willing to employ someone with a mental illness from the very beginning has had extensive experience with her employees having had nervous breakdowns and various other conditions. The other two employers are only swayed after three out of three of their top choices for employees reveal that they have had mental health issues. They realise that their previous stigmas were unfounded, and profess that they are even more impressed with the candidates on the grounds that they have come out on top even after struggling with mental health conditions.
It’s a show which sets out from the beginning to confront a mainstream audience with their preconceptions about people with mental illness, and it does so in a way that is, if not subtle, then at least very effective. It tends to slightly gloss over the details of the suffering of the various people involved, and this is potentially problematic in the way that it may risk audiences thinking that mental illness isn’t as difficult as it often is. However, this doesn’t detract from the overall effect of challenging prejudices and combating the all too common stigmas attached to mental health. It shouldn’t be the case that disclosing a problem and being honest about your issues to an employer makes them less likely to employ you – this kind of culture encourages the shaming of people with mental health conditions, who are then more likely to hide them away, not talk to anyone, not get the help they need, and find themselves at greater risk of serious, even fatal complications of their conditions.