Mental Illness and Jobs


When going through diagnosis, meds and recovery from mental illness, jobs can be a dreaded word. There is hope though. It is possible for people with brain disorders, (mental illness) to still be successful, hold jobs, have relationships, and be happy. Remember that a person is not their illness. Instead, they are a person who happens to suffer from Bipolar disorder, depression, Schizophrenia, PTSD, etc. However, as far as employment, understanding is key for both employees and employers. It is a thin line, but with honest communication fitted to the setting, cooperation and success can be achieved.

As mentioned in my memoir The Wellness Diaries, during a highly stressful time in 2006, I took some leave from my job at that time. I was taking prescribed anti-psychotic medication at the time for Paranoid Schizophrenia, had the first job which I had managed to retain for a record breaking two years at the time and I couldn’t afford to lose it.

What was the answer? Upfront, direct, honest communication. I went to see my HR, asking what types of crisis leave was available through that company. This was new to me. Ha! All of it was surely new to me, but especially getting the guts to ask an employer such a question. I will never forget the HR’s response.

In plain speech, the exact words of the HR were: “What happened man!?” I explained briefly. To this day, I am touched by his further response: “Yes, we can give you leave. {hardware store} wants to see you through this, and we’ll pay you too.” No questions asked. I was granted leave with most of my full time pay.

It was amazing. I was able to receive a little more than half of my salary as I took three weeks of leave to just process and heal from the whiplash situation as explained in the book.

The main thing to understand is just how taken care of I felt by my employer at that time. I felt valued. Since I did, it went both ways. I felt like I wanted to make it count, since they were willing to do so much for me. I wanted to work hard and give it my best when I returned. I took the time to heal, process and get back on my feet. It was much needed time and I am forever grateful to the HR and the company for being generous in that way. I stayed at that company for seven years total, and I am glad I did. I had many positive experiences and examples of how employers and employees can meet half way about mental illness issues. I feel that I gave years of dedicated service, being the first job that I had proven to myself that I could hold for that long, it was just the confidence boost that I needed.

It has been my experience that if employers can see that one is really working on their disorder, trying to be fair and not take advantage, they are open, they care, and they help out.

Currently, my two employers exercise a great deal of patience and flexibility with me, as I balance things out, having recovered, but having experienced a very stressful three years as I get back into a rhythm. I am very grateful. There are many positive things throughout all parts of society taking place like this, people wanting to help those affected by disorders as much as possible. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Some of the disorders that most directly influence employment, such as PTSD, Major Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizoaffective Disorder may present an extra difficult situation as far as employment is concerned. For some, it just may be that it is best to work in jobs where there is minimal traffic with the public. Some of us are true introverts. Each individual will have to decide their options in this way. Let’s face it, some of us with disorders can be moody folk. (Please know that I say this with love and respect, and one who has been through all of these things.) Moods can fluctuate often and this is often compounded with a personality that is largely introverted to begin with. People with disorders, are often the artistic, creative types. This is because we filter information and experiences through emotion and passion, feeling our way through first and foremost. Whereas, those largely scientific types filter information differently, and not with emotion. They are less susceptible to brain disorders, (just heart disease;) These are often the hard driving, type A personality, who would also benefit greatly from a starch-based diet. These types’ learning style is different also. These are simply different personality types, but the differences must be understood and respected. It is my opinion that these differences have more to do with personality itself type, whether illness is present or not.

There is a story that I heard recently, which always softens, of a post war soldier who suffered from PTSD experienced triggers while in his apartment. The triggers were severe enough that the man put holes in the walls of his apartment. When the symptoms subsided, the apartment was basically down to the 2 x 4’s… Expecting the worst from the landlords, he was surprised when they told him that it is on them, provided that he get some help with PTSD.

Throughout all aspects of living-relationships, housing, jobs, etc., there are answers. There are options. There are ways to cooperate and meet half way. It takes education, understanding, breaking down the stereotypes and stigmas about mental illness. There is work to be done. However, it is always nice to see so much progress taking place. Thank you to everyone that is on board here. I have a lot to say about these and many things. They are all coming up in the future projects.

Communicate. Come real. Come as you are. Allow yourself some trial and error as part of your learning. Respect the natural flow.

Thank you for reading and educating yourself. This is part of the journey.


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