CONVINCING profit-driven businesses to hire people with mental illness has not been easy for Job Club, the job-matching programme launched in 2009 by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

The number of employers - around 50 - registered with the initiative has remained stagnant, although the Job Club is hoping to increase this pool.

"Some employers are not willing to come on board," said Job Club's vocational specialist Shelly Loh.

"And for those who do, a lot of work is often needed to educate and help them better understand mental illness and to correct perceptions."

The retention rate may also deter some potential employers. IMH statistics show that only about half of their clients remained in their jobs for at least two months. The other half left earlier because of unrealistic expectations on their part or lack of confidence, among other reasons.

But some employers who partner Job Club told The Straits Times that hiring people with mental illnesses can, and have, worked out.

At Astons, the steakhouse chain, about six servers and kitchen helpers were matched by the club. Astons general manager Kenneth Mark Yong said they tend to have good working attitudes, come in early and greet customers cheerfully, in part because they appreciate the job they have. While their illnesses do relapse, this happens rarely.

"I've seen the joy in them integrating back to society. At the end of the day, you can't tell them apart from the others," said Mr Yong.

Psychiatrists said they are not surprised by the retention rate, given that IMH handles conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Those who suffer from these illnesses tend to lack motivation and drive, said Dr Adrian Wang, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, and Job Club is making a "commendable effort" by helping them.

But he said that for the scheme to work, patients' skills have to match their jobs, and the current pool is too small to give them much choice.

"Either the patients need to be less fussy, or there has to be a bigger range of jobs," he said.

As of last month, Job Club had successfully helped 1,148 patients find employment.

One of them is Mr Lee W. L., 34, who has schizophrenia and has been working as a dishwasher for six months.

He had previously found jobs at a factory and a chemical plant, but did not disclose his illness to his employers as he felt they "did not need to know".

But at his current job, his manager, who is aware of his condition, often checks on him and asks how he is feeling.