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Mental illness and employment

Mental Health

A common belief among those who do not suffer with mental illnesses is that those with mental illnesses cannot work.  Some believe that mental illness sufferers don’t work because they are lazy and/or because they are inventing or exaggerating their symptoms to dodge work. I want this piece to show how these beliefs are wrong and hopefully do my bit to change societal stigma surrounding mental illness.

After suffering with depression for 5 years, I was finally diagnosed at 18. Around this time, I started suffering with schizophrenia and was diagnosed with this at 21. 

I started my first job when I was 16, and until the age of 20 I was always in some form of education or employment, regardless of how mentally unwell I was. My last day in paid employment was spent hearing a destructive voice that was trying to get me to kill myself, plus I was suffering with the beginnings of malnutrition and dehydration from a lack of self-care. Two days later, I was sectioned and had to leave the job I loved.

My first hospital stay was 8 weeks long and I only spent 10 months at home before I was back in hospital. This second stay was 17 months long and I got much worse there before I finally recovered. 7 months after leaving hospital, I started a voluntary job in a cafe but only managed to stay for 4 months before having to leave. I found the job to be too stressful and I didn’t want to suffer a relapse which is why I left.

However, despite not being in employment at the moment, I would dearly love to be and I am hoping that in the next few years, I will at least be in part time employment. I don’t even care if it is paid or voluntary work as I hate being out of work and would accept almost any job in a bid to get out of the unemployed category! So to the people who believe that those who don’t work due to mental illness are ‘skivers’ or lazy, how do you explain my fervent desire to work?

I know that there are and always will be people who invent or exaggerate mental or physical illness in a bid to avoid work and claim disability benefits. I don’t live in the clouds with the fairies, believing that all human beings are good people who would never tell a lie! However, there are people with mental illnesses who legitimately cannot work and would become very unwell if they were sent back to work.

On the flip side, there are those who have recovered from a mental illness who do work and are highly functioning, useful members of society! One of my loved ones battled depression for a long time and after a period of time away from work, they returned to a highly stressful job for several years until they reached retirement! With one in every four people suffering from a mental illness at some point in their lives, the odds are that you work with someone who has suffered from one. You may even work with someone who is currently suffering! I worked for four years with depression and two of those years I was also battling schizophrenia. I imagine that many others battle through their illnesses before seeking help and may even continue working against their doctor’s advice.

As for those who believe that people with mental illnesses do not work because they are lazy, then I believe that they have not experienced a mental illness in either themselves or a loved one. I would ask them to picture this.

Imagine that you are in a highly stressful job. You are overworked and under-appreciated. Your boss tells you that you are not good enough so many times that you start believing him or her. You start believing that you are not good enough at any aspect of your life and you begin thinking that people would be better off without you. Leaving the house becomes a mammoth task as you believe that you negatively impact on those you interact with in the street. You worry that just crossing the road could cause a chain reaction which leads to someone’s death. Getting out of bed in the morning becomes a daily struggle and interacting with loved ones becomes a stressful event because you worry that you are negatively impacting on them. You think that the only way out is to end your life and you may even attempt to do so.

You try holding a job down while you are feeling like this! You may think that you could ‘pull yourself together’ but I guarantee that in the throes of depression you won’t be able to just ‘snap out of it!’

I’d have given my right arm to have been able to snap out of my depression and put my whole self into my job but I couldn’t. I was frustrated at my feelings and not being able to deal with them myself and I hated having to get help. I am a person that will do everything possible to avoid going to the doctor and I had to be sectioned in order to prevent myself from either starving to death or dying from dehydration.

So if you were one of the people who believed in one or all of the beliefs that I mentioned earlier, do you still have the same opinions? If the answer is yes then I would ask you to re-read this article. If the answer is still yes then I would just ask one thing of you. If you find out that someone is suffering from a mental illness then please do not tell them to ‘snap out of it’. Just be a shoulder to cry on, a person for them to talk to. You may then be able to understand just how devastating a mental illness can be.

By Misty via Time to Change Wales

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