Being unemployed because of mental illness is hard. I am now self-employed but when my mental health reached such a low that I had to leave my job, it was awful. There’s more on my personal experience here.
As with a lot of things relating to mental illness, there seems to be some misconceptions about the whole scenario and I want to explore that today.
1. We’re being lazy.
I have no issue with going to work. By nature, I am a hard worker. I strive to do the best I can in whatever I take on. In the jobs I’ve done, I’ve given it my all. (You may have noticed that with my blog, too…)
I never pictured a situation where I’d have to leave work because I couldn’t cope, but that’s what happened.
I have a lot of flaws, but laziness isn’t one of them. When I didn’t feel up to going to work, or doing much once I got there, I knew something was wrong. Not enjoying a job has never stopped me from trying my best, until I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
2. It’s easy.
Being unemployed is never a walk in the park. Being employed because of mental illness is even worse. You already feel like a burden, and now you find yourself in a situation where you can’t pay your way.
I have found this so hard over the last few months. I’ve felt very uncomfortable about Neal having to pay for everything, and I’ve even taken to selling some things so I can help.
Guilt aside, it’s no fun not having an income. You can’t help out, you can’t treat yourself. Everything just feels pretty miserable.
Oh, and by the way, we’re alone with our brains a lot of the time and our brains aren’t very well. So, they’re not really our friends. Thankfully, blogging gave me something to do to distract myself from all that negative noise.
3. We’re being too picky.
When your mental health plummets, the last thing you want to do is feel that way again. So, yes, if you’ve been in a job which resulted in your mental health taking a nosedive, you do become reluctant to take on any old thing.
I think it’s a fact that some people, particularly creatives, are not suited to jobs like retail or office work. Forcing themselves into that, when they’re already in a vulnerable place, is likely to result in a downward spiral.
It’s not a case of being picky. It’s a case of being cautious.
I, personally, don’t see this as a negative thing. I think one of the best acts of self-care is to find a job you enjoy. We spend way too much time in our lives working. I just don’t think it’s worth doing something that comes at the cost of your mental health.
4. We just need to get on with it.
You can hear it now, can’t you? The chorus of older generations saying we don’t know how lucky we are. At least we haven’t been sent down a mine or shipped off to war.
And it doesn’t change anything because we’re still unwell.
We’d love to just get on with it. Trust me. I don’t know anybody who is out of work because of their mental health who sits at home and thinks what a blast it is. It is awful to wake up and know everyone else is heading off to work and you don’t feel able to.
On the other hand, if we did that, the result would probably be a vicious cycle. We accept a job we’re not ready for, we dread turning up every day until eventually we leave and – look at that – we’re back to square one. Somebody else lost out on a job, and the company now has to spend time and money finding a replacement. What was the point?
It’s also really hard to sell yourself when everything inside your head tells you you’re worthless. The whole recruitment process is built on the idea of putting your best self forward, but what about when you can’t find it?
By this point, cynics amongst you may be thinking:
What’s the plan here? You’re never going to work again?
We’ve got to work on ourselves first. We need to get to a place where we feel ready to take on the challenge, rather than diving in when we know it’s not right. All we want in return is a little compassion.
I don’t want anybody to misunderstand: I do think employment is generally beneficial for most people’s mental health. My first job did wonders for my confidence, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. In fact, it can be the complete opposite in some situations.
Also, the two can be completely unrelated. A job, or lack thereof, might not be the root cause of somebody’s mental illness. You need to keep in mind that mental illness can be a chemical imbalance, or the result of a trauma. Without the help of medication and/or therapy to go alongside it to tackle deeper issues, a job isn’t suddenly going to solve somebody’s problems.
Perhaps if companies were more understanding about the difficulties of living with a mental illness, it wouldn’t seem so intimidating. The truth is, they’re not. In a lot of cases, calling up to say you can’t come in because anxiety is off the charts and you’re scared to go outside just isn’t going to fly.
Maybe it’s time we looked at that side of things, rather than blaming those who are struggling.