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Last Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006, 23:47 GMT 00:47 UK
'My company helped me recover'
Heidi Howarth - BT
Heidi is back at work after her depression
Employers are far less likely to employ people with mental illnesses compared with physical conditions, a report suggests.

In a bid to address the stigma attached to such conditions, the government is launching voluntary standards for employers.

Heidi Howarth, 35, suffered depression after a serious car crash in 1999.

A customer-service manager for BT, Heidi was off work for three years and also suffered from agoraphobia.

It's very difficult. It's not seen like a physical problem, even though it's as debilitating

"Following my accident, I felt very isolated and was physically restricted.

"I had been a very active person and I found this hard, which led to my breakdown."

Heidi, who is married with two children, found it difficult to leave the house and was worried what people would think of her problem.

"It's very difficult. It's not seen like a physical problem, even though it's as debilitating.

"I became very nervous and developed obsessive-compulsive behaviour, so when I did leave the house I would do things like only walk on one side of the street."

'Starting point'

Heidi, from just outside Exeter in Devon, tried to return to work after 18 months, but found it impossible.

BT then referred her for free counselling sessions.

"It made a world of difference. It was the starting point for my recovery."

HAVE YOUR SAY
I fear my benefit will be taken away from me before I am recovered and back on my feet
William Corgan, Co. Durham

Following the sessions her company funded, Heidi began a course of NHS therapy.

Three years after her accident, she was able to return to work and has been promoted to a more demanding job.

"I'm really grateful for what the company did, particularly for keeping my job open. I don't think everyone is as lucky."


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