Disabled jobseekers told to ‘downplay’ the severity of their medical condition

Jobseekers advised not to use words like "chronic" and "depression" on application forms.

Mentally ill and disabled jobseekers have seemingly been advised to downplay the severity of their condition on official job application forms.

NHS Trusts, in conjunction with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), suggest that mentally unwell and disabled people should refrain from including words such as “depression” and “chronic” when completing job application forms.


The official advice leaflet (pdf), which is published as part of the DWP’s new ‘Work and Health Programme‘, says people suffering with depression should describe the debilitating mental health condition as “low mood”.

Meanwhile, jobseekers living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E) are advised to describe their illness as a “fatigue-related condition”.

And those suffering with back pain, and other recognised pain-causing medical conditions, should instead use the term “ongoing pain condition”.

The leaflet argues that changing the terminology on an application form will improve the chances of being offered a job, but charities and campaigners have described the revelation as “really worrying”.

Around 1.8 million people in England have been diagnosed with depression and 250,000 have CFS/ME.

Ayaz Manji, a senior policy manager at the mental health charity Mind, said: “Anyone who discloses a mental health problem at work deserves to be treated with respect, and jobcentres should not be reinforcing stigma by advising people not to disclose.”

He added: “People with mental health problems have just as much to offer as anyone else in the workplace, and it’s right that this advice is being challenged.”

Sonya Chowdhury, the chief executive of the charity Action for ME, said: “We are outraged that [people with ME] are being told to keep quiet about the reality of their experience.

“At least 250,000 people in the UK have their lives devastated by ME but this impact is not seen.

“Minimising ME as a ‘fatigue-related condition’ is at best misleading and at worst potentially damaging to someone experiencing a range of potential symptoms for which they need specialist support.”

Labour’s Shadow Disabilities Minister, Marsha De Cordova, said: “In essence the DWP are encouraging disabled people to downplay their disability or health condition.”

The advice has since been withdrawn, following widespread criticism, but the DWP claims it was “well-intentioned”, while adding that the department “would always encourage jobseekers to speak freely about a health condition or disability”.

What is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E/CFS)?

Video: ME Action

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or ME/CFS, is a devastating multi-system disease that causes dysfunction of the neurological, immune, endocrine and energy metabolism systems.

It often follows an infection and leaves 75% of those affected unable to work and 25% homebound are bedridden. An estimated 15-30 million people worldwide have ME.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is a systemic neuroimmune condition characterized by post-exertional malaise (a reduction in functioning and a severe worsening of symptoms after even minimal exertion). It causes dysregulation of  the immune, nervous, and energy metabolism systems.

The effects of ME are devastating enough to leave 25% of patients housebound or bedbound.

All people with ME experience a substantial loss of physical or cognitive functioning, but there is a  spectrum of severity.

The typical ME patient scores more poorly on quality of life surveys than those with multiple sclerosis, stroke, diabetes, renal failure, lung disease, heart failure, and various cancers.

Onset can be either sudden or gradual, and the intensity or frequency of specific symptoms can wax and wane.

While symptoms can fluctuate significantly from day-to-day, shifts in overall wellness should be measured in years, not weeks or months.

Source: ME Action.

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