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nine to five
The question

I haven’t worked for five years because of a complicated situation regarding my mental health. I am in a better place now, and also in need of a job. I don’t feel comfortable disclosing my mental health issues to companies because I’m pretty sure they won’t hire me if I do. But I know they’ll be asking about this big gap in my résumé. What should I do?

The first answer

Bill Howatt, president and founder, Howatt HR Consulting, Ottawa

You’re not alone. The gap between where we would like employers to be concerning mental health stigma and where employers are today is still too wide. However, many employers are learning and understanding that mental health healing is no different than physical health healing. It can take time to heal and feel well enough to return to work. Don’t feel a need to discuss your mental health during an interview. Focus on why you want the job and why you would be an excellent candidate.

Emphasize what your strengths are. Because you have been out of work for a while, getting help with your CV and improving your interview skills can be helpful. If asked about the gap, confidently state that you were out of the work force for personal reasons; you have addressed them and are ready to return. You do not need to explain. Allow the interviewer to evaluate you on the merits of your education, experience and their selection process.

If down the road, you struggle again, your employer must provide accommodation if you need it. You can access this by presenting credible medical evidence that tells your employer how they can best accommodate your needs. For now, focus on finding the right role and the support and clarity you need to be successful, such as a supportive leader and team.

The second answer

Neha Khurram, founder and talent director, the Hiring Community, Toronto

More companies are beginning to value mental wellness and offer programs and incentives around it. The perception around mental health breaks is gradually shifting to be less of a concern. In addition, a newer feature of LinkedIn offers you the choice to share a wellness break, sabbatical or other forms of career break under your profile’s work experience section.

While some companies will be understanding, others will be less likely to be so if you don’t have a lot of work experience to begin with. Similarly, if you lack high-demand skills, seniority or the personal brand to rule out the competition, an extended break (six months or more) may cause doubt compared to candidates with more consistent work experience in a saturated market. Companies tend to prefer candidates who are currently working because there is a perception they will have less of a learning curve. As such, it’s best to pick up a course, a side gig or volunteering, if possible, to overlap with your time off to showcase your commitment to work and learning.

Whether you choose to disclose your wellness break is less important than focusing on your skills, knowledge, network, accomplishments and the value you can bring to the company. You may opt to not list the wellness break on your LinkedIn profile or résumé and instead wait to be asked during the interview. Tie your story back to the job’s needs and say: “I took some time off to tend to personal matters and spent a good amount of time reflecting on my career goals.”

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