How to Be Successful at Work with a Mental Illness

Dealing with mental health issues can be difficult, especially in the workplace. In fact, an estimated 26% of people in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. That means there’s likely somebody at work who’s struggling to cope on the job, and that somebody could be you.

So, does having a mental illness automatically prevent you from being successful in your career? The answer is no. You can still succeed at work even if you deal with the symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another type of mental health issue. That’s because there are policies in place to protect your rights.

But aside from the workplace accommodations, how does someone with a mental illness climb the corporate ladder when many of the requirements and/or opportunities trigger their symptoms? Fortunately, the solution is simple. Just be sure to tell your employer about it so they can adhere to the Equality Act and give you more reasonable tasks.

How to work better with a mental illness

Regardless of what you do for a living, performing better at work is always important. It could spell the difference between getting fired and getting a raise. So, understand that most employers will make minor adjustments to the workplace for employees with mental health conditions. Thus, the first step to improved productivity is honest communication with upper management.

You cannot legally be fired or demoted because you’ve been diagnosed with a physical or mental impairment, by the way. So, follow these other four steps next:

#1. Get to know your triggers.

Try to understand the underlying causes and symptoms of your disorder, and then figure out what you can do about them. Set up parameters at work to prevent unproductive episodes, and work on developing better coping mechanisms if they’re needed. Gain a better understanding of issues you might be struggling with by taking online mental health tests.

#2. Respect your own boundaries.

Pushing yourself to achieve difficult goals is one thing but forcing yourself into uncomfortable situations is another. So, give yourself enough respect to avoid certain scenarios and/or responsibilities. And if you can’t get out of the gig, try to use the buddy system so someone is there in case you have a reaction.

#3. Communicate with your team.

Because of the overwhelming stigma associated with mental health disorders, it may be tough to open up about your condition at work. However, keeping things a secret may make your duties even more difficult to complete. So, tell your team what’s going on and educate them about the unique symptoms of your condition. That way, everyone stays on the same page and works more fluidly together.

#4. Choose compatible positions.

Pick careers that help you use your mental condition for good and try to stay away from positions that trigger your symptoms too frequently. There are many jobs that actually require someone with a unique perspective on things, so get it where you fit in. Contrary to popular belief, mental health disorders don’t have to be a workplace obstacle or liability. In some cases, they’re actually associated with an employee’s unusual success.

Take a few famous names, for example. Entrepreneurs like Wayne Brady, Demi Lovato, Jim Carey, and Anne Rice reached the pinnacle of their careers by harnessing the symptoms of their mental illnesses. Many even correlate their achievements with the heightened creativity associated with certain disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia.

The best jobs for people with mental illness

What are the best jobs for people with mental illness? Generally, they all have these characteristics in common:

  1. Job duties include things that do not trigger mental health episodes.
  2. Tasks revolve around your physical and mental abilities.
  3. The position does not require a lot of one-on-one interaction with customers or staff.
  4. Salaries are equal to or greater than those of people without mental disorders.
  5. The job generates feelings of accomplishment, pride, or humility.

The best jobs for people with mental health disorders are always those that provide flexibility and respect for all workers. So, choose a position that puts policies in place to protect your rights as an employee with a mental health condition.

Tips for dealing with mental illness at work

Coping with mental health at work can be tough but failing to do so could cost you your job, and that’s no way to become successful in your career. Instead of getting in trouble with your boss or coworkers, try to find creative and/or productive ways to cope. Bring therapeutic items to the office, maintain an open line of communication, work with a therapist in your free time, and get involved in workplace advocacy.

DID YOU KNOW: There’s no legal difference between using a sick day and calling off because of a mental health issue. So, don’t be afraid to take a break if you need one.

The Takeaway

Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder is not the end of the road for your career. If you learn how to recognize the symptoms, avoid triggers, and use effective coping mechanisms, you can be productive and successful at the right job.

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