Having a purpose in life is so important to your mental well-being. Many of us living with a mental illness have never been encouraged to reach for our dreams because people underestimate our abilities. But we’re capable of so much and are a great asset to the workforce.
If you were to ask me if I thought I would have a fulfilling job -- one that gave me a sense of purpose -- in my future when I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, I would have said no. At that time I was new in my recovery process and only dreaming of going back to college to get a bachelor’s degree.
One piece of advice I got was to volunteer and participate in extracurricular activities in college. This would allow me to gain social skills and look good on a resume for future jobs. I also used my local library and the student academic center to help me create a solid resume.
Interviewing can be stress inducing, so it was helpful for me to discuss this with my therapist. I had to remember that although I hadn’t been the workforce for almost 10 years, I already had past work experience that would help me land a job. Role playing an interview with a job coach was also helpful and prepared me for questions I might be asked in an interview.
I never sold myself short and remembered to not put all of my eggs in one basket. I applied to multiple jobs and sent my resume out to many organizations where I thought I would be a good fit. After a long interview process, I began my first job out of college as a peer support specialist for a mental health provider.
For most jobs you don’t have to disclose your mental health condition if you don’t want to, but it was part of my job description to do so. I would be helping others in their recovery process by sharing my experience of living with schizophrenia. I stayed in this position for almost 2 years, gaining experience until I applied for my current position at another organization.
Getting a job can be time consuming, but once you find one you have to remember to keep a good work/life balance. This is especially true for those of us living with a mental health diagnosis. Time management is crucial to staying well. Just like how I manage my daily routine at home, I also have to create a daily work routine.
I use a day planner that I carry with me, as well as entering all of my schedule in my phone and Google calendar. I watch my time and get to work 10 minutes early and do my best to leave at the same time every evening without taking work home with me. I’m very proactive to inform both my boss and therapist when I feel like I’m getting overwhelmed. This way I can get support if needed to help me stay on track.
I learned who was on my human resources team at my job and researched the employee handbook so I would know how to ask for accommodations if needed. It’s always good to know what help is available to you and how the organization you work for can assist you in your mental and physical well-being.
Asking for accommodations can be frightening, but you have rights as an employee to use those services. It’s simple to do so. Just write a letter to your boss stating that you’re an individual with a disability and you’re requesting accommodations under the American With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Then state the specific problematic job tasks, identify your and your employer’s accommodation ideas, and attach any medical documentation if appropriate. Some employers have their own in-house forms you can request as well.
I‘ve been back in the workforce for 8 years now and have a fulfilling job that gives purpose to my life. Today I’m working for a wonderful organization as a community outreach and education trainer. I facilitate Mental Health First Aid, QPR Suicide Prevention Training, and a host of other mental health overview programs for our community. I learn something new every day and work well individually, as well as part of a team.
Don’t let living with mental illness prevent you from looking for work. You have incredible abilities that would make you a perfect asset in the workforce. Never underestimate yourself, and don’t be afraid to follow your passion and find that job that adds purpose to your life.
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