Working when you have a mental illness

Published by MAXSolutions on July 15, 2021
Working when you have a mental illness

Work in some capacity is important for all human beings to maintain a happy and fulfilling life. For those that experience mental illness, there are at times significant barriers to employment.

Those barriers may mean that those with mental illness miss out on the physical, mental, and financial benefits that come from employment.

Communities and businesses that are inclusive of people with mental illness are more likely to thrive. Many people that experience mental illness find difficulty in securing work. Both the participation rate in the workforce and unemployment numbers of those that self-report a mental illness are double than those without.[1]

Issues such as the stigma of mental illness, lowered self-confidence from health conditions, anxiety about what colleagues may think or awareness of what assistance is available can all make finding employment difficult.

Whether you are just about to start your career, or have returned from a break, these tips may help if you have a mental illness and either working or looking for a job.


The benefits of working when you have a mental illness

The benefits of work are well established for those that are experiencing or recovering from mental illness:

  • It provides a social outlet and another avenue for support.

  • It can provide structure and routine to your day.

  • It can foster a sense of purpose and meaning to life.

  • Most importantly it can improve your well being and quality of life.


How to find a job when you have a mental illness

Jobs for people with mental illness are the same as jobs for any other person. What is right for you will be dependent on your unique situation. The skills and qualifications you have as well as your interests are still vital to securing employment.

There are however some extra things you may have to do.



You may not be able to do what you used to do at work. Depending on your situation you may require a job that is less stressful or one that is less physical. Maybe you aren’t very comfortable working in a team or maybe you need the right environment and support.

Think about what schedules would work with your body clock. If waking up early isn’t something you can manage think about night shift roles. If a full-time job is too much of a commitment, maybe look at part-time opportunities to start with.

The only person that knows truly what you are capable of is you. So being honest with yourself and assessing your capabilities accurately is vital to avoid disappointment and secure ongoing work.


Seek support

Depending on your time out of the workforce some things may have changed. Having someone from your support network that can give tailored advice is key to calming your nerves and setting you on the right path.

Your consultant is also there to help support you through this process, from helping with resumes and applications, to linking you with the right employers and helping you find a suitable job for your experience, qualifications and unique circumstances.

Your consultant can also connect you with the right health professionals that can assist you on your journey and provide the right supports for your particular situation.

If it has been a long break you may find some value in our returning to work after a long break article


Tips for working when you have a mental illness.



Maintaining privacy about your health is completely ok. It is up to you how much information you disclose however you may need to have some discussions with your boss or HR if there are adjustments that need to be made.

Reasonable adjustments to your role and workspace can be made (and are legally mandated) to help make your workspace safer and more appropriate. You just need to be confident in discussing your needs.

Another key to communicating is making sure you are checking in with your manager, so you are both clear on what are manageable expectations.

Many businesses have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP is a confidential service with trained mental health professionals on hand to talk through and assist you when you are struggling. These services are free for employees and are a great way to talk through your concerns if you don’t feel comfortable discussing them with colleagues or your manager.


Don’t push yourself

Know your limits and what you have the capacity to do. If things are getting too much make sure to take a moment to breathe and relax. If your illness has changed what you are able to do at work, you need to comfortable with that and know that it’s ok.

Especially when you first start, if things are getting a little overwhelming don’t keep it inside. Discuss your concerns with your manager and work together to finding a solution.

You can also reach out to your consultant, depending on your situation they can provide ongoing support for up to 52 weeks. Depending on your circumstances this could mean some sort of financial support or linking you with relevant health services.



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