By Michele Hellebuyck, MHA Policy and Programs Manager
Employment can have a positive effect on mental health. It offers the opportunity to apply skills and talents, while boosting self-confidence and self-efficacy. On the other hand, finding employment can be quiet challenging for someone dealing with a mental health condition. To start with, you must confront the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace. Despite the ratification of the American Disability Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against mental health impairments, mental health conditions continue to be viewed as a liability, and assumptions are often made about an individual’s ability to perform well. This reality can create psychological barriers to applying for jobs. Additionally, searching for job can be a stressful and emotionally draining process, which can worsen symptoms of mental health conditions.
Having a mental health condition can pose some practical barriers to working, such as having breaks in your career, feeling unsure of yourself, or needing to ask for an accommodation such as time for doctors' appointments. You can figure out strategies to work around these barriers, often with the help of friends, mentors or an employment specialist. Don't give up! Here are some useful tips that may help along the way:
- Know your strengths and talents. Seek jobs where you feel that you can excel and bring something to the table. Having a job where you can apply your skills and talents can boost your confidence and self-esteem. Doing something that is meaningful can offer a sense of stability and satisfaction. You may not find a job in your field of interest but knowing your strengths and talents can ensure that you find a job where you have the capabilities to perform well.
- Voluntary questions are just that -voluntary. Applications often include voluntary questions on whether you have a disability (including mental health conditions). Often there is an urge to be honest because it feels uncomfortable to hide the truth. At the same time there is a real fear stemming from knowing that stigma still exists. Whether you choose to disclose anything may change with every application. That is ok, you are not obligated to do so. Most of the application is about what you can, and will, offer as an employee.
- Tackle the process one step at time. Applying for jobs is overwhelming. The applications are time consuming, interviews are nerve wracking, and rejections are difficult to experience. For individuals experiencing a mental health condition, this can take an emotional and psychological toll. Try to create a realistic workplan. For example, spend one day looking through job postings and another day applying to the jobs you have selected. Also, do not forget to practice self-care, identify the coping skills that fit your needs, and seek support throughout the whole process. This can be an especially chaotic time. It it is important to identify resources that will keep you grounded as you move forward.
Mental health conditions impact different people in various ways. Some people with mental health conditions may never stop working; others find that their condition interrupts their career, and still others may be able to do only limited work. As people recover from a mental health condition, they also face varied challenges in relation to work. Some people with mental health conditions find that they are able, with minor accommodations, to work in the same way they did before. Others may have to re-enter work gradually. And people on disability benefits will need to observe back-to-work rules when employed.
No matter your situation and no matter the hurdles you face, hold on to your goals for yourself and keep striving to incorporate meaningful activity into your life. In the past, people with mental illness were often discouraged from working, but today we understand that work is not only a possibility, but also it can often be a vital role in recovery.
This blog will be cross-posted on the Social Security Administration's Ticket to Work Program's Blog here.