Mental Illness, Employment And You – Making The Three Work Together

As anybody who has ever been out of work for a significant period of time will surely know, finding a job can be extremely difficult. For the long term unemployed, it can sometimes seem like the whole world is against you - golden opportunities are being handed out on a plate to all around, whilst you struggle against the tide.

It’s a feeling that’s usually temporary – most of us spend a few listless months being quite mopey and down about the fact that we don’t have a job, then quickly forget these blues when an amazing offer comes out of nowhere. In many ways, the constant need to find and maintain a suitable job is what drives and defines us as human beings. It’s what we talk about with our friends, it’s what makes our parents proud and it’s what shapes the way we see the world.

Yet, what if the importance of finding and keeping a job is unexpectedly pushed to the side by mental or emotional illness? How exactly do you convince prospective employers that you’re a reliable, responsible individual when your medical record is against you? According to the Mental Health Foundation, a staggering one in four people in the UK experience some kind of mental health issue over the course of a year. Despite this, the stigma of mental illness can still be very strong for those looking for long term employment.

Too Common To Be The Exception 

It’s awfully unfair, because the term ‘mental illness’ can cover a whole gamut of conditions. You don’t have to be a schizophrenic or have multiple personalities to struggle with what is, essentially, just a psychological imbalance. To be mentally ill doesn’t automatically equal dangerous, unstable or unreliable – in a lot of cases, it isn’t necessarily permanent either. Yet, the very words ‘mental illness’ are enough to instill panic in employers who do not fully understand them.

As such, it can be extremely hard for people who suffer from mental illness, however slight, to secure regular work. Our society continues to treat those with manic depression, panic attacks, chronic anxiety, depression and severe OCD as grey areas, as people who need too much personal attention to be a worthwhile asset. With the right framework of support and understanding, however, there’s simply no reason why those who suffer from mental or emotional health issues have to be victims to their medical record.  

If you do struggle with mental health issues, or have suffered from a mental illness in the past, it’s important to be aware of your legal rights. The legal system in this country recognises that there is a stigma surrounding mental illness, and if you’re no danger to anybody else, and can carry out the tasks assigned to you, you are not legally obligated to disclose details of your condition to an employer. You must be aware, however, that without such disclosure, you are not legally entitled to any additional support. Here is a guide to making sure that mental health issues never come between you and a job.

Learning To Ask For Help

For most people, it’s the notion of being forced to reveal all to a prospective employer that causes so much fear. If there’s a choice involved, it usually doesn’t seem so scary. A person who is mentally fit enough to independently find and secure a job is almost certainly capable of deciding whether or not they might also need extra support. It’s important to be honest with yourself about this, because you can be lawfully dismissed if you don’t ask for support and fail to carry out your duties.

If you quietly inform an employer that you might need extra time, resources or additional emotional support, they cannot fail to provide this and then penalise or dismiss you for struggling without it. It’s important to remember that not all mental health issues are blindingly easy to spot and they don’t all interfere with work.

A person suffering from depression, for example, will often hold up fine during the working day and struggle during the evening. A person with severe OCD may function perfectly well, just so long as they have a significant degree of influence over their desk, office or work environment. In most cases, it’s a matter of asking an employer for nothing more than a quiet space to retreat to if things get too much.

Taking Care of Yourself

The only instance in which you’d be legally obliged to disclose details of your condition is if you’re taking any medication that might affect your work. If you’re prescribed pills that make you drowsy, for example, disclosing the fact is a matter of health and safety. As the responsibilities of an employer can only go so far, the rest is up to you. If you want to keep a job, and maybe even be in line for future promotions, you must take good care of your mental and emotional health.

This means taking the right pills (if applicable), eating well, spending free time productively and reaching out to friends and family members if you do need help. Whilst the extra responsibilities that come with a new job might seem like a strain at first, you’ll most likely find that being in work is actually better for your mental state.

The human brain functions much more efficiently when it’s interested, occupied and engaged – time and time again, studies have shown that people in work show significantly less symptoms than the long term unemployed. The idea of returning to work can be particularly daunting for those who’ve spent a lot of time in recovery, but there’s a lot of support – both external and internal – out there for those brave enough to seek it out.

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