• Craig Tolley (left) and Paul Fraser (right) (Supplied)
For Craig Tolley, the past eight years of work have helped him manage his schizophrenia and increased his self confidence. For boss Paul Fraser, seeing Craig's achievements inspires him to keep working with people managing a mental illness. They write about their experiences.
By
Craig Tolley, Paul Fraser

8 May - 5:55 PM  UPDATED 9 May - 9:53 PM

Craig Tolley

Having a stable job has helped me in ways I never would have imagined. When I first started working, I thought it was just a means to an income; little did I realise it would completely change my sense of self and confidence.

I have schizophrenia, which in the past has scared a lot of my bosses and seen me lose jobs. People need to realise that as long as I take my medication, I’m as normal as the next person. Admittedly during this period I was drinking heavily and in hindsight, what was way too much. It’s no surprise my employment situation was impacted, but I don’t think it was the sole reason.

At the end of the day I can perform just as well as the guy standing next to me. 

It wasn’t until Clean Force took a chance with me that I found job stability and saw an obvious change in other areas of my life. Since starting in the role eight years ago, I’ve progressively become more self-sufficient and gone from a pretty quiet sort of guy to having a steady girlfriend. With this job, I now hold my head up high and can afford to pay the bills and spend money on things I enjoy like sports. I’m a massive footy fan, a Collingwood supporter of course. We’re having a bit of a rough start to the season this year, but it’s still early days.

Originally I was contracted with Clean Force for three days a week and now I’m up to five, working three and a half hour shifts. The work can be pretty taxing: carrying boxes, running up and down stairs, those sorts of tasks. It’s pretty physical, but this is actually a bit of a blessing because I’m looking fitter and my health’s improving.

I really do enjoy the job, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to getting Mondayitis every now and then. I’m only human! Paul’s been a great support though, what he’s done for me has been amazing. I look up to Paul, he’s very honest about life and is always giving me amazing advice. That’s why I stay at the company really, because Paul and the rest of the team treat me so well. They’re good people. Not many businesses are like Clean Force. It’s hard for employers to see people for more than just their disability and give these workers a chance. At the end of the day I can perform just as well as the guy standing next to me. 

 

Paul Fraser - Manager, Clean Force

When I first met Craig eight years ago, he was really quiet and anxious and his confidence was low. He spoke a bit about the jobs he’d had and how short-lived they had been, how they hadn’t worked out for him. But it was so obvious that he wanted to work. He had drive and a good attitude, I remember that, and I knew if we supported him he would be a great worker. 

Today he’s so much more confident than he was. He seeks out new challenges and opportunities and he asks for feedback; he’ll sometimes ask for someone to come down and look at his work and make sure he’s doing a good job. He takes great pride in his work.

Craig is a really positive role model for his peers, and a lot of this is to do with the insight he has into his own mental health and his ability to seek support when he needs it. He only speaks when he needs to, but the guys listen to him and respect him when he does.

Some people are a little bit uneasy when it comes to talking about their mental health, but Craig isn’t like that. He understands his illness, he accepts it as a part of his life and a bit of a struggle, but he doesn’t want it to define him.

To see our people succeeding - people who have been written off as unemployable in the past - it’s pretty inspiring. It’s what keeps me coming back. 

That’s very much our belief at Clean Force too - that all Australians, including those with disability and serious mental illness, deserve the opportunity to be actively engaged in the workforce and in the community. Everyone is valuable and has something to offer, some people just need a little bit more help. 

For me, I just fell into the disability sector really. I was a medic in the army and then I did my community services diploma. I’ve found my niche with Clean Force though and I know I’m good at supporting our staff to succeed in their roles. I’ve had family members with mental illness too and I feel very passionate about mental health and reducing stigma.

We have such entrenched stereotypes of people with schizophrenia or serious mental illness and they’re just not true. Everyone is an individual, everyone is capable of contributing and if people could come to work with us for the day they’d see that.  

To see our people succeeding - people who have been written off as unemployable in the past - it’s pretty inspiring. It’s what keeps me coming back. 

 

This week, Insight looks at how mental health is being managed in the workplace - and whether it can be managed better. | Mind at Work - Tuesday 9 May, 8.30pm SBS

Further reading
How is mental illness being managed in the workplace?
And can it be managed better? Insight investigates.
What are your rights and obligations around mental health in the workplace?
What do you do if you find yourself dealing with a mental illness while trying to earn a living? And for employers, what obligations do you have to hire and help an employee managing a mental health condition? This week's Insight found out.