Mental Health, Work & Occupation

How to Manage Working with a Mental Illness Disability

Mental Health @ Home - How to Manage Working with a Mental illness 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, and one of the reasons why I dislike being around people.  In our society, adults are expected to work, and if you don’t, that is considered unusual unless you fall into a certain pre-determined category, like stay-at-home mom.

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, but this can be rather dodgy in practice.  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 is much harder to objectively “prove” the impact of mental illness, and employers and disability insurers alike seem reluctant to believe what they can’t actually see.

Most of my career I worked full-time.  That came to a screeching half three years ago when I quit my job due to workplace bullying.  Due to repercussions from the bullying, it took me 9 months to find another job, and by that point, the depression had firmly taken hold.  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 government plan all workers are required to pay into.

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, which is administered as part of the Canada Pension Plan, is harder to qualify for if you’ve got a mental rather than physical disability.  There’s also a federal disability tax credit, which doesn’t really matter that much since my income’s so low I’m hardly paying any tax anyway.  However, qualifying for the disability tax credit allows a person to start up a registered disability savings plan, and the government will kick in a certain amount as a grant based on how much you contribute, up to a certain maximum.

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, but it’s still 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.

I think I’ve mostly come to terms that I’m never going to be able to work much, but what’s harder to wrap my head around is the uncertainty around income.  And being single, I don’t have a partner that I can lean on.  Most of the time I don’t spend too much time worrying about it, but it is something that 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 in which I would end up.  Even though I accept the change, there’s a sense of loss at not being able to do much of 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.

You can find more posts related to mental health and work on the blog index. You may also be interested in reading about universal basic income.

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44 thoughts on “How to Manage Working with a Mental Illness Disability”

  1. Your issues are part of Maslow hierarchy of needs.

    Security, safety are basic and some of your worry is natural for a human

    Somehow we need to live our life in the present without the judgments

    Thoughts, dissociated thoughts fuel depression ptsd and anxiety to name a few

    Having mental illness is harsh, others can not see this injury

  2. Depression, ptsd, anxiety draw more of our energy, occupy more of the day

    I learned to play defense when feelings of depression come around

    I refuse to ruminate , judge or buy into negative thought

    It is like a neutral holding pattern till I feel normal

    Well normal for me

    You have spirit and wisdom

    If you can exercise, the mind gets to share the accomplishment

    When my mind was frozen, my legs could still move close to exhaustion

    Never give up
    Never give in

  3. I looked into working when I first went on disability, just a PT job in customer service or liight office work. To say the least, my being honest didn’t get me very far.
    I know there are days when I have a difficult time just getting my head off the pillow… or by mid-day, I’m fried and need to lie down. Or, when my depression and anxiety are in full skid out of control mode, it is so beyond words to describe what a miserable bitch I can be. And, yes, this is still while being on medication.
    (This is just based on the mental health side of things, and not the physical crap I have going for myself).

  4. I wish you had access to the benefits I get here in the US. 🙁 With social security disability, you get a monthly amount based on how much you’ve “paid in” (by working) over the years. You also get hospital and drug coverage and optional doctor visit coverage (if you want to pay for it). I’m sad to hear things are so much drearier in Canada!! I’m hoping things turn around for you financially before it becomes an issue! 🙂

    1. Most health care is already covered in Canada, so that’s not an issue here, and provinces cover at least part of medication costs for people with low income. Canada Pension Plan disability sounds like the same idea as what you’ve got in the states, but in both countries it seems like having an application accepted is not a sure thing. I doubt that overall benefits in Canada are worse than in the U.S., if nothing else because health insurance isn’t an issue here.

  5. I hate being asked what I do for a living too. Usually I just say I am a freelance writer/blogger/artist. It is the truth and I do make some money from those things, even if not enough to be a full income.

  6. We identity who we are by what we do in our society.

    Who we are has nothing to do with what we do?

    It is our ego that needs to be ad irked and important

    Your intelligent and caring, kind at your core

    I know the way but I bring up my professional baseball career when I meet people at times.

    I know better but it is like watching a ventriloquist dummy spouting my athletic prowess thirty years ago.

    The Ego never loses energy to inflate itself.

    Accepting ourselves as we are is our goal

  7. I know exactly what you’re going through. I’m going on three years this year of being unemployed.

    I had a pretty bad breakdown that was getting progressively worse as I stayed with the company I was at and I was forced to quit after looking for other jobs. I was unemployed for a few months and I thought that would be enough time to regain some mental composure but it wasn’t. I started my next job and within 3 months I quit again because I came to a point in my life where working was adding too much stress to my already overworked brain.

    I live in the US and filed for disability but was denied. Mental health is so much harder to get disability for and it’s a shame since it impacts so many people.

    Just know that you are doing the best that you can and everything happens for a reason. ❤

      1. rofl, yeah it does. We travel a lot too which, of course everybody is like Ohhh, Ahhh. NO IDEA of the hassles involved in getting TSA with metal in you body, and forget about the fatigue! Some times I’d like to just say, hey, it ain’t a bed of roses people, well maybe it is, heaven knows it’s full of thorns. 😉 Ohh, I sense a post coming up. Thanks for listening. 😉

  8. Yes, all too familiar to me, sadly. I’ve never worked full-time. The most I worked was four days a week, but I often worked less (the exact amount is confusing because for a while I was on a term-time only (plus a few days extra) contract). For several years I couldn’t work at all.

    Disability benefits, in my experience, are geared up to people with physical disabilities and it’s very hard to quantify your impairments from illness or disability and prove to a distant bureaucrat that your mental health causes significant impairment, even if everyone around you can see it does. I got taken off my benefits for being too healthy. Then there’s the unemployment and underemployment that is typical of people on the autistic spectrum, again without necessarily anything obvious that would qualify for benefits.

    I’m lucky that my parents can subsidise me for now, but I feel like a child still living with them at thirty-five and I worry what will happen when they retire.

    1. Yes for all governments talk about mental health being important, it doesn’t seem to translate very well into parity with physical illness in accessing disability benefits.

  9. Since my breakdown in December I have made the decision to (hopefully) go part time. I’m scared and anxious about what other people will think but I know it’s what I need. Yet I still curl away when anyone asks me “What are you doing with yourself now?”

  10. “What do you do?” is my most feared question in social situations. Right now I’m back in school part time, so I can say I’m a student, but for a long time I couldn’t even handle that, and “on disability” is so frowned upon for an able bodied individual. I avoided social events for a long time because of that “simple” question.

  11. Working at lots of different places is a good cover, because everyone just assumes I have a full schedule somewhere else and I don’t to have to admit to the times I go home after a half day’s work and then take a nap. If pushed, I lie: “taking a nap” becomes “doing admin”

    1. I’ve noticed that too. At one of my jobs I can only tolerate the place at night, and if anyone asks the reason I give is that I’m at my other job during the day.

  12. I’m sorry you’re in this situation. 🙁 I think there’s still hope for your depression, though! I’ll have hope for you even if you don’t have it! Things can change!

  13. I’m in the UK and I’ve never been supported with my mental health in the workplace, disclosed it to an employer only 3 times and I got fired from one Job and bullied in another so I dont disclose it anymore.
    I tried claiming for disability but was told because I put myself through university that i couldnt have it. Xxx

  14. I find it hard to search for work while suffering from anxiety. Also people are easily saying that people are lazy when they have a mental illness. It’s not that I don’t want to work, I’m just anxious. I applied for an internship in Spain so maybe I will give that a chance. I also don’t like those questions because they make me uncomfortable. You are doing a great job 💗

  15. 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.

  16. 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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