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This woman just lost her dream job. And it could happen to 45% of us for the exact same reason.

Emma Cox.

Emma Cox should be on an aeroplane right now, giving a safety demonstration.

She should be 30,000 ft in the sky, rolling a drinks trolley down the aisle between sleepy passengers.

Instead, she’s sitting on a red sofa on BBC television defending herself against accusations that she’s incompetent, troubled, or dangerous.

Emma Cox is a 22-year-old British woman who got her dream job at Emirates, only to be stripped off it when the airline became aware that she had suffered from depression in the past. Almost instantaneously, she became the face of a crushing social problem: discrimination against good people based on their mental health.

Emirates had accepted Emma’s application earlier this year and she says she’d been approved by April, when they asked her to give her medical history. A doctor saw Emma and confirmed in writing that she was physically and mentally healthy enough to do the job, but that didn’t matter. Emma’s medical records show a short period in 2012 when she suffered from depression. And that, for the airline, is enough to rule out a perfectly good candidate.

Never mind that she’s fully recovered, mentally agile, strong, and self-sufficient. Never mind that she’s professionally qualified. Never mind that 45% of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime so we must choose between accommodating people or alienating nearly half our employable population.

Emma’s brief struggle with depression was enough to have Emma rejected. In response, she launched a Facebook page called Emirates Against Depression with this statement:

“It’s heartbreaking losing your dream job for being a human being.

But good riddance Emirates. I’m a human being, who has been through hell and back during certain times of my life … Depression made me a stronger, healthier person and opened my eyes to the world. It’s given me life experience that you couldn’t comprehend. I am able to deal [with] any type of person from the life I’ve led. I’m able to understand, support and appreciate every single person that crosses my path. I would have been the perfect air hostess.”

In an interview with the BBC, Emma elaborated on her point about mental illness building resilience: “Depression changed my life, it had given me different skills, you know. I’m able to do things that maybe other people in my position haven’t. I’m able to understand people and I’m more compassionate and I can empathise with many different people.”

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The airline has refused to comment on this particular case other than to say: “Emirates has a clear and fair recruitment process and is an equal opportunity employer. The Cabin Crew environment is both physically and mentally demanding with crew regularly experiencing body clock changes and irregular sleeping patterns, which can take a toll on the body.”

Sure, being a flight attendant would be demanding. It requires constant travel between time zones, long hours at high altitude, flawless attention to duty of care, long periods of time away from family and home, and a perpetually disrupted lifestyle. It’d be hard.

But you know what else is really, really fucking hard? Surviving depression.

Only the very strong make it through the particular devastation of having a chemically imbalanced brain.

If a person gets help from a counsellor, GP, psychologist or psychiatrist, they’re also more self-aware than the untroubled human. They’re emotionally evolved, tenacious, and powerfully compassionate. Watching Emma Cox speak, it’s clear that she is all these things. She’s walking around every day with the knowledge that nothing – not even strong turbulence, a terrorist threat, or a problematic passenger —  could be as difficult as those months in 2012 when she was dealing with depression.

That sounds like exactly the sort of person I’d like to see standing in the aisles of an aeroplane, signalling emergency exits, comforting kids with ear-aches, and responding to any crisis on board. Virgin, Qantas, British Airways? Emma Cox is a determined, strong, competent young flight attendant who would be an asset to any team. She’s available to start work immediately. Over to you.

Do you think the airline had any justification in their decision? Have you ever been denied a job because of illness?

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