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If you’re mentally ill can you work? What profession or job for the mentally ill?

Posted May 30 2013 5:00am

Can the mental ill find a meaningful career?

Work, Jobs & the Mentally Ill

Work, Jobs & the Mentally Ill

Lots of people with mental illness work full time jobs and often these are responsible positions not just minimum wage jobs. How does someone in mental health recovery find a job in which they can be successful?

We used to think there were two kinds of people, the normal ones and those others, the mentally ill. We have found that this is just not true. In the course of a life time most people will experience a mental or emotional problem that would benefit from counseling. Some of these are serious and persistent mental illnesses and some are milder but even the most seriously mentally ill can get better, and we call this improvement, at least in my book, recovery.

Lots of people with a diagnosed mental illness can and do work. Don’t let anyone sell you the idea that once you get a diagnosis, your life is over and from now on some government person will need to run your life. You can develop the recovered life that is right for you.

People with a history of substance abuse issues can and do recover also. So do those with multiple challenges. If you have a history of arrest and incarceration do not give up. People with felonies on their records do recover and get their life back on track. You can work again. More on that in a future post.

What factor is most likely to result in a person who has had an episode of mental illness symptoms being able to work again?

It is all about the job fit

The most important factor is not the presence or absence of a mental illness, but how does this persons interest and abilities match up with the job regardless of their mental health challenges. The interaction between the job and that person’s mental illness is secondary.

Someone who is shy is not likely to enjoy a job in which they need to interact with lots of people directly. Occasionally there is a shy person who is great as an on-stage entertainer even when they are shy off stage and in small groups. Being shy may interfere with the ability to enjoy the job but a moderately shy person may take the job anyway.

If that persons shyness has crossed the boundary and has become a diagnosable anxiety disorder that person may not just dislike the job, but may dread it so much that they throw up each day when getting ready to leave for work. They may have anxiety attacks on the job and spend all day in the bathroom or stop showing up for work altogether.

This is not the right job for them! This does not mean they can’t find a job that is a good fit. They also may be able to work on this shy anxiety problem they have so that the range of jobs they would enjoy expands.  

Some people are very social. They like being around others. They crave the interaction and the attention of others. That person may be great in sales. They could do well selling real estate, jewelry, furniture or cars. That same person, say they are a recovering alcoholic would be miserable working in a bar or selling alcoholic beverages. Every day at work would be a relapse risk for that recovering person.

Working again after an episode of mental illness requires learning to manage your symptoms, finding a job that is a good fit for you and having a support system on and off the job that wants you to succeed.

Yes there are plenty of people with Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder and the like who have good, responsible jobs. Don’t let anyone tell you that recovery is not possible. It is! You need to decide for yourself what your recovery will look like and take an active role in creating that future.  

Best wishes in creating your happy life whatever that may mean to you.

Tomorrow we talk about “so you have been convicted of a crime, you will never get a job again right?” Not so. There is recovery after all sorts of things. 

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com

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