The West Wing raises important issues surrounding MS and employment
3 Feb 2003
The third series of The West Wing, which hits our TV screens on 8 February on Channel Four, raises some important issues around the subject of ‘going public’ if you have MS, particularly with regard to disclosing information to employers and colleagues.
The West Wing provides a glimpse into the inner workings of the Oval Office as seen through the eyes of an eclectic group of staffers led by President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen). President Bartlett has had MS for a number of years but has managed to keep this fact hidden from his colleagues and the general public, until it was inadvertently disclosed by his daughter. A Harris poll undertaken in the United States in 2001 indicated that 40% of people with MS hide, or have hidden, the fact that they have MS.
Making the decision
For people with MS, choosing when, how and if to tell family, friends and colleagues of their condition is a very tough decision. MS is complex and variable and it is impossible to predict its course in any one individual. Some people can continue as before and for them, it is very much ‘business as normal’. Others find that MS impacts on virtually every aspect of their life, especially career and employment prospects.
Fortunately, many people with MS are able to continue working by making changes to take account of their symptoms, for example by adapting equipment, reducing working hours or perhaps moving to a more suitable role. The ‘invisible’ symptoms of MS, such as overwhelming fatigue and lapses of concentration, can cause particular problems in the workplace, as they may profoundly affect a person’s performance at times, but will not usually be obvious to employers and colleagues.
Fiona Mactaggart, MP for Slough has experienced some of the issues surrounding
MS and employment at first hand. She has had MS for ten years and initially
declined to make this fact public:
"I kept my MS secret before I spoke about it in a debate on medical research two years ago, because I was worried that people might think I was not up to being an MP. However, I am lucky. I can keep up with all the demands of the job and even bicycle to the Commons. It is the future that is scary, because research has not yet come up with a cure."
How the MS Trust can help
The MS Trust, which celebrates its 10th birthday in 2003, is a major national charity which provides much needed support and information to the 85,000 people with MS in the UK.
Christine Jones, Chief Executive of the MS Trust says:
"Many people with MS can continue to work as normal with a few minor adaptations while others may need to make more fundamental changes to their lives. Deciding when to tell friends and colleagues is not easy. It is often helpful to talk to family, friends and close colleagues before approaching an employer. Many people who contact us report that their employers and work colleagues are extremely supportive and flexible. In many cases, employers simply need to be educated and reassured that people with MS will continue to be an asset to the company. Sadly, this is not always the case."
The MS Trust’s factsheet Talking about your MS to family, friends and colleagues provides practical and relevant information for people with MS.
Copies are available free of charge from the MS Trust
© Copyright 2003, MS Trust