Mental Illness and Work
When discussing mental illness and work, “work” can mean a number of things.
It can mean the workplace, as in where we go to do our jobs. It can also mean the act of working, what we do at our jobs, as a volunteer in the community, or what we like to do in the garden, kitchen or workshop to relax.
The relationship between mental illness and work can be looked at in a number of different ways, including:
· the stresses and strains today’s workplace places on us
· the incredible pressure placed upon people to continue to perform at work when an illness strikes, and the extra strain this places on their families and friends;
· the difficult barriers those persons diagnosed with a mental illness face in the working world;
· the strain encountered by people who work while they care for someone with a mental illness at home;
· the therapeutic role the act of work plays in helping to reduce stress and improve mental health; and the benefits work can bring in guiding people diagnosed with a mental illness toward recovery, rebuilding their self-esteem and hopefully returning to the jobs they left when the illness struck
Mental Illness in the Workplace
Of all persons with disabilities, those with a mental illness face the highest degree of stigmatization in the workplace and the greatest barriers to employment opportunities. Persons diagnosed with a mental illness are more likely to experience long term unemployment, underemployment and dependency on social assistance.
Many employers and employees have unwarranted fears and see persons with psychiatric disabilities as unskilled, unproductive, unreliable, violent or unable to handle workplace pressures. This stigma creates climate in which someone who has a problem and needs help may not seek it for fear of being labeled.
Undiagnosed mental illness also has a high cost in the workplace. If left undetected, overall work quality and productivity can be affected by an ill employee’s misunderstood behavior. Mental illnesses and the fact that they can be successfully treated must be understood by employers. Only then can they begin to recognize and accept the symptoms of a true condition and know how to establish an internal management program to accommodate their employees.
Ten years of ping-ponging between home and hospitals, untreatable bipolar disorder and with life heading nowhere, my luck changed after a new psychiatrist entered my life. With correct meds finally, and great encouragement I began to take two steps forward.
I followed all of this doctor’s directions; volunteering, participating in the out-patient occupational therapy program, taking meds as prescribed, and finally I was on my way to wellness. Moods were reasonably stable and I wanted to return to the workplace (this was 2005). My dilemma though found me with limited computer skills caused by years of unemployment, non-usage of computers and coupled by memory loss from ECT.
My psychiatrist though, advised only returning part-time, but my bull-headed nature had me applying for full-time positions. Tenacity prevailed with the computers; working daily on my typing skills, escalating my speed and relearning the computer programs. I dejectedly sat back at times, recollecting when I used to instruct computers at my office prior to becoming ill and ending my career. But, I regained the skills and thought I was finally ready.
At the outset, I had a spotty resume caused by years of illness. Using my volunteer work, as well as, a short stint with self-employment, filled in the ‘experience’ section of my mottled resume, which began looking presentable. Next came the job hunt. I always felt, the search for a job is far more problematical than performing the job itself.
To be continued……. (stay tuned for part 2)