What You Can Do when Mental Health Affects Work

Part of adulting means working, for most of us.

Our careers are meant to give life a chunk of meaning, reflect part of who we are. For example, I chose psychology because I like helping people and I’m curious to know what causes (at least in part) why people do the things they do. My Career in Psychology reflects this choice and the different jobs that I have taken on this path. It’s been interesting. Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker is a slightly funnier reflection on the best job I have ever had. If you’ve worked in psychology, especially at a mental health facility, you’ll get a few laughs.

Stressed at work

However, when our emotional well-being takes a negative turn, most aspects of our lives are affected. This includes work- it’s hard to concentrate or even show up when you don’t want to get out of bed, get dressed or leave your home.

A Few Interesting Facts

According to Mental Health America, clinical depression is one of America’s costliest illnesses. If it’s left untreated, depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS in the cost of lost productivity, absenteeism during a person’s prime working years. Most people, which is around 80%, can be successfully treated and live a full life with clinical depression. It’s about the same with anxiety. Other mental illnesses may have lower rates due to their severity and other factors.

  • Most of those who take short term disability due to depression are female.
  • Many of those with depression will not seek treatment because they are worried about confidentiality (a large issue in the medical field) and/or the effect it will have on their employment.
  • Untreated mental health issues can lead to strained relationships with co-workers.
  • Around 50% of those surveyed say that anxiety has diminished the quality of their work. (I have had this issue and it is not pretty.)
  • Once this becomes an issue, many do not want to speak to their supervisor about their stress because of fear of how they will be seen- as weak, not willing to work, etc.


How Can I Tell There is a Problem?

Do you dread going to work?

Are you always the first out the door when your shift/day is over?

Do you feel like you have too much on your plate at work but feel you can’t say anything?

Have you lost the “spark” in your work?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of those, it might be time to step back and think for a minute. If you have additional stressors like anxiety, depression or another mental health issue, it may be time to re-evaluate your job.

You may already be trying to handle the issue without knowing it by doing things like:

  • taking longer to complete tasks
  • calling in sick/coming in late frequently
  • having issues with co-workers

How can you handle this in a healthy way?

  • Make a to-do list. This can help with overwhelm in general but can be very helpful at work. It feels good to check things off a list after staying on track.
  • Take frequent breaks. Work for an hour, take a five-minute break- even if this means just walking down the hall for a few minutes. Moving around can help a bit. This may need a tweak depending on your environment, but make it work for you.
  • Try not to take on too much. This can be difficult, especially if you like to help out, but it may lead to the overwhelm you are trying to avoid. Think carefully before you take on another project or committee.
  • Set small goals. You can break down big tasks into smaller, manageable things so that it doesn’t feel so scary.
  • Add personal items to your workspace. I had pics of my kids all over my locker in the breakroom at the mental health facility I worked at. You could barely see the inside of the locker door. It was a bit of a boost on the hard days.
  • What are your triggers? What bothers you? I am a huge fan of finding these things out. Everyone has something that sets them off- what is it about the job that stresses you out the most? Try to do something calming before that, if possible, even if it’s just deep breathing. When I was a substance abuse counselor, I kept a bottle of bubbles in my office. If I knew I was about to have a difficult session, I would close my office door and blow bubbles for a minute or two before and after. It helped.

This information is from Learn How to Become

HR talk

A Word About Human Resources

If all else fails, please speak to your supervisor. Things do and can happen. Mental health is not a joke or meant to be taken lightly. If you know that things are going badly for you, no matter what your diagnosis, even if you don’t have one, please talk to your supervisor. If you don’t feel okay doing so, then go to Human Resources.

They have ways to help you out, and even more, these people want to help you. That’s why they’re employed! There’s an interesting program that most employers have called an Employer Assistance Program that offers FREE counseling for up to six sessions, depending on the company. Sometimes it’s six sessions period, sometimes it’s six sessions per issue. Again, this depends on your company. I highly advise looking into it. After those sessions are up, they can refer you out to long term therapy if you are into that.

You’re worth it and so is your career.

Most employers want their employees to succeed and are catching up (slowly) to their needs. It may be scary as hell to ask for help, but again, you’re worth it. I’m willing to bet that you are not the first or only person at your job to ask for help.

Sometimes, losing your mojo completely may be one of many factors (long commute, extreme work conditions, etc) that play into work dissatisfaction, and if so, maybe it is time to leave. Mental health can be a large one, however, and should be looked at. How do you feel every day going into and leaving work? That’s a question only you can answer.

Has mental health been an issue where you work? Have you left a job due to stress/anxiety?

If you live in North Carolina, BetterHelp may be helpful. Better Help assists people all over the country, so if you are in a different state, the website is still a good resource.

Photos courtesy of Unsplash

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