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Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the United States alone. An array of conditions that ranges on a vast spectrum: from the commonly encountered anxiety and depression to the more severe illnesses such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders, dementia, and schizophrenia, despite increased awareness, mental health continues to be a social taboo. For a person suffering from a mental health issue, combating discrimination and associated stigma while trying to deal with their health is nothing short of a challenge.

When it comes to working with a mental illness, there are many benefits that aid recovery. Work gives one financial security which in turn helps improve their quality of life and overall well-being. A proper work schedule gives our life structure and contributes to our sense of purpose and meaning. Work also helps provide one with more opportunities to socialize with others and feel included in multiple social settings thereby giving one support and encouragement to combat their illness.

However, your mental health interferes in your functioning in more than one way.

Functional limitations encountered due to psychiatric disability:

When it comes to working and surviving in a professional environment, there are multiple functional limitations that an individual might be subjected to.

  • Maintaining Concentration:

    Struggling with restlessness coupled with a short attention span is normally people with mental illness have to deal with in the workplace. They have trouble remembering directions and tend to get easily distracted.

  • The decrease in Stamina:

    Those individuals who are on medication to combat mental illness report a decrease in stamina and struggle with drowsiness and finding the energy to work a full day without taking breaks.

  • Screening out Distractions:

    Mentally unwell individuals are more sensitive to external stimuli such as sounds, odors, and sights. This inability to screen out distractions prevents them from focusing on any task at hand.

  • Interacting with Colleagues:

    Feeling socially excluded and finding it hard to get along with others is another common finding. Fitting in and socializing with other co-workers is rather difficult for people combating mental illness which further leads to them feeling socially anxious.

  • Multitasking and Deadlines:

    Multitasking is not advised for people struggling with their mental health as they are incapable of handling more than one task at a time. It is overwhelming for them to keep track of progress and generally fail to prioritize the order in which tasks need to be taken care of. Owing to time management issues because of lack of focus, they also find it difficult to meet assigned deadlines.

  • Negative Feedback:

    Criticism is a normal part of work. Negative feedback is hard to take in, but one should learn from their mistakes and improve to become better. People with mental illness find it hard to understand the criticism and this, in turn, ignites issues concerning low self-esteem and reduced confidence.

  • Sensitive to Change:

    Man is a creature of habit which makes it naturally quite difficult for one to adjust to change in work and overall surroundings. Sudden changes in tasks, deadlines, or work environment is very hard for a mentally ill individual to process and deal with.

  • Dealing with Work Stress:

    Work-related stress is very important for one’s overall health. Feeling overwhelmed and being unable to cope with work progress is a common finding in not just people with mental illness but just about everyone.

The most commonly encountered limitations amongst these are interacting with others, maintaining stamina, learning the job and most importantly, the inability to deal with work-associated stress.

Tips to help you in the workplace despite your mental health issues:

  • Confronting Stigma:

Dealing with the stigma associated with mental illness in the workplace can only be confronted head-on by exhibiting transparency. Being open to the discussion will help you not only deal with your condition better but also assist you in achieving a reasonable adjustment plan. Normally the solutions are easy to implement without significant losses in revenue or work performance. Allowing short absences from work, flexible work timings, taking full designated breaks are just some ways in which you can tackle the stigma associated with mental illness. Everyone has varying symptoms depending on their condition. Therefore, it is crucial that you and your employer discuss what type of adjustments would be in all of your best interests.

It is prudent to explain your condition and your personality to your supervisor, so they are also able to pick up on any symptoms in the workplace. One of the signs of dementia, for example, is being unable to stay focused. Lack of attention and feeling restless is a sign a supervisor should be able to recognize if he or she is to help someone in need. This will enlighten them on what to do in cases of tricky situations and handling them without being condescending or unsupportive.

  • Be Vocal:

Despite the efforts being made to be more vocal about mental health, there is still a general lack of knowledge surrounding the matter. There is no denying the fact that people are still not comfortable to talk about it openly despite knowing how concerning this issue is. Workplace environments have a strong role to play when it comes to dealing with mental health.

Make an attempt to be vocal about your condition with your supervisor, colleagues, and subordinates. Regardless of how they respond, it is important to inform them and be open to discussion. Not only will that make you feel more comfortable but also help take a major load off your chest.

  • Live to Learn:

Know your illness and research about the ones you do not know about. Learning things that do not concern you directly will help you gain insight on perhaps someone else in your workplace might be dealing with.

Take dementia for instance: learn all there is to know about the illness such as what causes dementia, what are the presenting symptoms and what can be done to help combat those symptoms in the workplace. The more you know, the better you will be able to tackle difficult situations such as questions, expectations, performance, and possibly help someone else in need.

  • Know Your Rights:

    It is important that you know your rights more than anything else. Often times we are caught in situations that do not allow us to make adjustments. Stay up to date with legislation and consult your HR department to advise you on your rights.

  • Seek Emotional Support:

    Many people often feel isolated, excluded and rather vulnerable when combating workplace associated stress and anxiety. Seek help from friends, family or online health forums to help you stay on track. Seek emotional support, so you do not feel like you are in this alone.

  • Steady Progress:

    Try not to overwhelm yourself with too much work if you feel like it is too much for you to handle. Dealing with mental health is exhausting so make sure to not completely drain yourself out by taking on more work than you can handle. The trick is to adopt a slow and steady approach. Instead of rushing through a big task without giving it your 100%, work on a smaller task and give it your undivided attention.

Performance management processes have been established by multiple workplaces that focus on helping someone via intervention in the case that they aren’t feeling well. It is prudent to address and work to resolve the problem instead of focusing on the negative aspects and judging the employee’s performance by it. Support good performance effectively as it will help not only the employee at risk but also help the company in the long run.

Create a positive work environment by offering constructive feedback and invoking positive reinforcement to help build a cohesive mindset and instill resilience. Open dialogue about everyday issues especially workplace stress is just as important as work itself. Strengthen workplace relationships by being a good listener as well as a talker. Dialogue is monumental when it comes to building trust. With the right mindset and positive attitude, you will be able to overcome every obstacle that comes in your way when it comes to combating your mental health.


Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer who loves to read and write articles on healthcare technology, fitness and lifestyle. She is a tech junkie and divides her time between travel and writing.