Having suffered a mental illness is becoming less of a barrier for someone seeking a job.

A specialist job placement agency said it was able to secure employment for almost all former patients seeking help within a few months.

Citing greater acceptance and understanding of mental illness by the public, Employment Support Services (ESS) said it has found jobs for almost 500 individuals with mental illness since it was set up in 2010. Most of them have schizophrenia.

"When they're in a job, recovery is not as difficult. It's something to move them on," said Ms Irene Sng, director of ESS, which is run under the Singapore Anglican Community Services.

Most former patients are hired as retail or office staff. A smaller number choose the food and beverage industry, due to the long hours.

While work is beneficial, coping is still an issue. "So, many of them take jobs lower than they're qualified to do to manage stress," Ms Sng said.

According to the 2011 Singapore Mental Health Study, at least one in 10 Singaporeans will suffer a mental illness.

Mr Alvin Lim, chief executive officer of Bizlink, a non-profit organisation providing employment for the disadvantaged, particularly those who are disabled, noted that job-seekers must manage their expectations about how far they can go. "I don't think you can ever expect the whole of Singapore to understand mental disability," he said. But people with mental disabilities, or illness, can find their own space to work, as long as they are realistic about their prospects of owning a car or HDB flat.

Still, the job market is looking up for people with mental illness and the wider range of work now open to them is an indication of how the attitudes of employers are changing.

Not too long ago, most would have had to work as dishwashers or cleaners, said Ms Porsche Poh, executive director of Silver Ribbon, an organisation that helps to increase mental health awareness.

More effective drugs is another reason for the shift in attitude. These new drugs better control the moods of those on treatment, said Dr Tommy Tan, of Novena Psychiatry Clinic. Some co-workers might not even suspect someone is ill.

Because of growing acceptance, more job-seekers are prepared to declare this part of their medical history to their potential employers.

More than half of these job-seekers at ESS declare their condition when looking for a job. Though some disagree with this approach, there are advantages to being upfront about it.

Said Ms Sng: "The difference is, if you work with the undisclosed, once they relapse, that's it, they lose their job. Or they have to resign.

"If you work with community partners who know of their condition, the support is there and they are more accommodating. For example, we have some clients who relapse and they are willing to take them back."