Finding work brings renewed motivation for job seeker Matthew who has bipolar disorder

There is a lot more to the job at McDonald’s for North Hobart barista Matthew Cocker, 26, than perfecting the crema on his next cafe latte’.

As front man in a busy McDonald’s McCafe, every day at work is a forward step on his life-changing road to recovery from a “dark place” of bipolar disorder and depression.

From dark space to happy place, thanks to disability employment

“I was in a dark space for 18 months; I was completely unemployable,” he recalls. “I was going nowhere … and it was getting harder and harder to see my life improving. I can now actually see myself doing something positive. I can see that I will be happy with my life.”

Nearly a year on in the role, Matthew loves his job, takes pride in the art of coffee making, and relishes the interaction with customers and other staff.

“Making a good coffee requires finesse and I enjoy the friendly banter and brightening customers’ mornings,” he says. According to his employers, Corey and Carla Mingari, Matthew shines in his role, has started developing his own cult following of customers and just started cross-training over to the main restaurant’s front service counter.

Getting back to work despite mental illness

It’s a long way from the downward spiral of depression that saw Matthew struggle to hold onto his previous job in a supermarket and eventually drop out of the workforce altogether.

He says his breakthrough as a job seeker with a disability came when national not-for-profit employment services provider, WISE Employment, started coaching him to re-enter the workforce about a year ago. WISE Hobart’s Employment Liaison Officer, Robin Rhodes, worked intensively with Matthew over six weeks to help him reboot for the workforce.  As part of that process, Matthew started therapy, began managing his medication and began a local coffee barista course. WISE Employment assisted every step of the way, funding the training course and providing a travel allowance.

Ongoing employment support for job seekers who have a disability

Matthew says his turnaround was largely due to the understanding and support given by Robin and the WISE Employment employment services network to help job seekers with disability. That support gave him the confidence and motivation to go to job interviews organised by WISE.

After two weeks of job-seeking, Matthew secured his role with Corey and Carla Mingari, owners and operators of the new North Hobart McDonalds, and keen supporters of the employment of staff with disability.

The first thing Matthew did was disclose his illness to the Mingaris, believing that honesty and openness would assist their understanding and his ongoing management of his illness at work.

Support and understanding from employers regarding staff with disability, he says, are critical factors for employee success.

In return for that support, employees with mental illness often reward their employers with loyalty and dedication “because they appreciate the opportunity and often feel that they have something more to prove”.

“If someone breaks their leg they get time off and their job waiting for them when they’re ready to go back. It’s not like that if you have a mental illness. A mental illness doesn’t mean a person is broken, it means they’re ill and people need to understand that.”

 

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