October 10, 2019

Follow The Yellow Brick Road: Improve Your Chances for Employment with a Mental Illness

The National Alliance of Mental Illness states 1 in 5 people in the U.S. experience mental illness (NAMI, 2019). If you are one of these individuals, at some point you probably asked yourself, “I have a mental illness, now what?” So many questions come to mind and you want answers.

After your diagnosis, you learn about treatments for your condition and recovery. Once you begin to recover, there is another question which comes to mind, “How do I balance my condition and a work life?”

A common myth about individuals diagnosed with a mental illness is that people with mental illness can’t or don’t want to work. This is simply not true!

People with mental illness want to work. According to Diane Winiarski, Director of Vocational Rehabilitation Services at Allsup Employment Services (AES), “more than half of the SSDI applicants who come to Allsup for the first time, want to work” (Allsup, 2019). However, according to a report released in July 2014 by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 80% of individuals with mental illness are unemployed. There are several reasons for this fact, but if you are looking to work, there are many things you can do to improve your chances to secure employment.

One of the most important ways you can increase your chances to secure employment is to stabilize your mental health while, at the same time, improve your physical health. Once you can stabilize your mental and physical health, you will improve your chances to return to work. If you have not worked in a while, there are strategies that will provide an opportunity to take charge of your overall health, increase your self-confidence, and foster work-life balance.

Stress is a good thing and can help you get tasks accomplished. Stress can also be detrimental if the stress occurs often and regularly with such intensity, over time, it can wear you down. Stress hormones can be triggered during a stressful life change, such as leaving home, getting married, getting divorced or changing jobs.

Any changes in life require you to employ your coping skills to successfully navigate the situation. Some positive coping strategies include eating right, exercise, getting enough sleep, relaxation techniques, listening to music, meditation, and spirituality and/or religion. This is not an all-inclusive list of positive coping strategies and you may use others that work for you.

When looking for employment, look for a mental illness friendly employer. The characteristics of a mental illness friendly employer include one that has a reputation of accommodating individuals with disabilities. Other characteristics of friendly businesses include flexible hours, paid time off, employee assistance programs (EPA), behavioral health benefits, short –term and long-term disability plans and a supportive workplace environment with minimal bias and stigma against individuals with disabilities.

Linda Denke, PhD, RN, CCRC is the author of Breakthrough (2015) and Lost & Found (2019), both books are written for people with mental illness who wish to live a higher quality of life and for their loved ones who can help them achieve this goal.

Editors note: Allsup helps individuals living with mental illness and other disabilities apply for SSDI and return to work.

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