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. 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 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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. 😉

  7. 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.

  8. 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?”

  9. “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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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

  13. 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 💗

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