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.”