Mental Illness and Work vs. Disability

Mental illness and work vs. disability

“So, what do you do for work?” That’s a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill question if you’re meeting someone for the first time. It’s also one of the reasons why I dislike being around people. In our society, adults are expected to work; if you don’t, that’s considered unusual unless you fall into a certain pre-determined category, like stay-at-home mom. But working with a disability isn’t an easy proposition.

Disability, whether it’s due to mental or physical illness, can have a huge impact on the ability to work. In theory, employers are required to make any reasonable accommodations to allow disabled people to function in the workplace (you can read more about that in my article on Disability News Wire); in practice, though, it can be rather dodgy. Government supports for people with disabilities may be few and far between, hard to qualify for, or limited in the amount of support they provide (or all of the above, really).

Mental illness is also not typically the first thing that comes to mind when the average person thinks about disabilities. It’s much harder to objectively “prove” the impact of mental illness, and employers and disability insurers are less likely to believe what they can’t actually see.

When work is no longer working

I worked full-time for most of my career. That came to a screeching halt three years ago when everything fell apart, and the depression stormed back in with a vengeance. Ever since then I haven’t been able to work very much. My control over my depression is very tenuous, and it takes very little in the way of situational stressors to trigger a substantial worsening of my symptoms.

It’s worked out well that both my jobs are casual, in the sense that I only work when I choose to accept shifts. However, financially this isn’t ideal. I typically don’t earn enough to cover my expenses each month. I’m not paying into a pension plan, aside from a little bit into the required government plan.

Disability benefits

In Canada, where I am, there’s a bit of a hodgepodge of disability benefits. To qualify for my province’s disability plan I would have to exhaust my savings first. The federal disability plan, part of the Canada Pension Plan, is harder to qualify for if you’ve got a mental rather than physical disability, which doesn’t really matter that much since my income’s so low I’m hardly paying any tax anyway. However, qualifying for the credit allows you to open a registered disability savings plan, and the government will kick in a certain amount as a grant.

I used to think that my illness would go into remission again at some point and I’d be able to get back to working full-time, or at least a regular part-time position. Now that’s looking more and more unlikely, which means I have to start thinking more seriously about other options. I’m very lucky that I’ve got savings, so there isn’t a huge sense of urgency around all of this; still, it’s something I do need to figure out.

I think at some point in the next year or two I’ll apply for the disability tax credit in hopes of getting some free money from the government through the disability savings plan. I’m hoping that my doctor will have seen me impaired enough for long enough to make a good case for me on the application. Still, I’m not entirely convinced that the government decision-making people will decide in my favour.

Facing uncertainty

I’ve mostly come to terms with the high likelihood that I’m never going to be able to work much, but what’s harder to wrap my head around is the income uncertainty. And being single, I don’t have a partner that I can lean on. Most of the time, I don’t worry much about it, but it fairly regularly pops up in my nightly 2-minute freak-out that I have before going to bed.

After my first episode of depression 12 years ago, I never would have guessed that this is the position where I’d end up. While I accept the change, there’s a sense of loss at being unable to do the work that I used to enjoy so much. But I suppose it’s often the case that life throws you curveballs, and you’ve just got to go with it. When life hands you lemons, make some lemon-infused water.

What are your thoughts on working (or not) with a mental illness disability?

41 thoughts on “Mental Illness and Work vs. Disability”

  1. Thank you for sharing. This was such a great read. As a medical student, mental health can be a big problem due to the stress of exams, imposter syndrome and staying motivated. I applaud you for your transparency.

  2. It took me almost 4 years to get disability benefits for my son. He has a syndrome that affects his vision, hearing, and mobility, but I had to appeal multiple times before getting approved. Not to mention the fact that I haven’t worked a full-time job in four years. I enjoy being available to take him to doctor’s appointments or taking over his care one the nurse leaves; however I would love to work again. My guess is the gap on my resume is making my job search a lot harder than I thought it would be. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. It’s so frustrating that things have to be so difficult. A resume gap just means that life is a bigger priority than work, and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.

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