Mental Illness Stigma and Handling a Job

May 26, 2016 Laura A. Barton

Handling a job with a mental illness can lead to stigma. To say that mental illness can make a job more challenging would be an understatement. Not only are there the challenges of actually completing a day’s (or night’s) work, of deciding how open to be about your mental illness with your boss or supervisor, and trying to figure out how many sick days are acceptable before you’ll get fired, but there are also a number of work-related challenges outside of the workplace. There is mental illness stigma around handling a job.

Because of how our society is structured, the idea is that you put in a day’s work in order to contribute to society. If not, you’re likely to be branded as lazy, irresponsible or even an abuser of the system when it comes to work disability coverage. People seem to have this idea that because a large number of people can put in an eight, 10, or even 12-hour days that everyone should be able to do at least that much.

The reality is that’s sometimes just not the case.

Work-Related Mental Illness Stigma Outside the Workplace

Speaking from experience, I’ve felt the flack people will give a person if he doesn’t “pull his weight” in the workforce.

My last job was severely detrimental to my mental wellbeing a lot of the time. By the end of my time there, I was only working two or three days a week, not even full shifts, and could barely handle that. It was a deadly combination of depression and anxiety coupled with a high-pace, customer service-heavy workplace that didn’t really ever let up. Anyone who has worked in customer service of any sort can probably relate to the experience of dealing with difficult people.

Handling both a job and mental illness can result in stigma and self-stigma. Handling a job with mental illness isn't easy. How can we relieve the pressure?I hated being asked what days I was working. I still wrestle with the idea of needing to be a “contributing member to society” while also managing my mental illnesses, so the question tended to bring shame or embarrassment along with frustration. Often times when I’d answer that I was only working two or three days, the responses would be, “must be nice,” “such a tough life,” or that dismissive, “pfft” sound that we humans are so fond of.

Granted, these responses typically came from a person in my life who went to the other extreme and worked endless hours, but the responses were what they were and they had a negative impact on me. I’m sure other people can relate (Language Can Stigmatize People with Mental Illness). I was definitely experiencing mental illness stigma around my job.

Recognizing Stigma and Work-Related Mental Illness Needs

The thing is, I wasn’t about to push myself to the point of mentally breaking, but all people saw (or so it felt) was someone who didn’t want to pull her weight.

To those for whom this might be a knee-jerk response, I ask that you, instead, pause a moment and check in with the person’s wellbeing. Reaching out might just be what someone needs to get some help. At the very least, venting can often relieve some of the weight we feel. Stigma only adds to that weight (How to Help Someone with a Mental Illness).

If your situation is like mine was, take care of your needs and make sure you have any support necessary if you are finding there is no way around pushing yourself in order to make ends meet. Jeopardizing our mental health doesn’t get us anywhere.

Ultimately, try your darndest to get out of a job that’s negatively affecting your mental health. It’s not easy, especially in tough job markets, but keep shooting for the better job.

In the meantime, it might be about learning to bear through the comments like I mentioned above. Maybe it’s someone with whom you can be open and honest. Unfortunately, not everyone will be so understanding, but sometimes all it takes is being honest about what’s going on in order to relieve some of the weight we feel.

You can find Laura on Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, Facebook and her blog; also see her book, Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2016, May 26). Mental Illness Stigma and Handling a Job, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Ontario, Canada. Follow her writing journey and book love on Instagram, and Goodreads.

Maria P
September, 6 2016 at 8:13 am

If you can try to work in a healthy routine to calm down as soon as you get home. With me, it's sitting on the couch and allowing myself ten minutes to do nothing. No turning on the tv, no browsing the web or listening to music. With how over-stimulating the days can be, it feels really good to let it all drain away with a bit of personal quiet time.

May, 26 2016 at 5:34 pm

Sometimes our self worth is in our occupation. That is an engineer is more esteemed than a lawn mower. We judge by what we make and do. I agree. Need to find new work if current one leads to depression.

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