16 Secrets of People Who Aren't Working Because of Their Mental Illness

Graduate from high school. Go to college. Get a job.

That’s how it’s “supposed” to go.

But, life happens. Mental illness happens. And not everyone ends up in school, or in the workforce. Or some people enter the workforce, and then have to leave.

We’re here to tell you, that’s OK.

Whether you’re not working because managing your mental health is a full-time job, a “typical” work environment just doesn’t work with your brain or if you just need a break to focus on getting well, just because you’re not working, doesn’t mean you’re useless.

It can be hard to believe this when people assume you’re not working because you’re lazy, or pass judgment your way. So we wanted to know what people who are currently unemployed and living with a mental illness wish others understood. Because no matter what’s stopping you from working right now, you’re definitley not alone.

Here’s what our community told us:

1. “Just because I can’t hold a job doesn’t mean I’m lazy or a bad person.”

2. “How debilitating depression can be. I think a lot of people see depression as choice, like you choose to be like that, but honestly I’d rather anything but the debilitation of depression. When we say we can’t get out of bed we really can’t — it’s like our mind is shutting down.”

3. “I wish people wouldn’t call me lazy. I’m actually trying my hardest to be productive. I wake up at noon but that’s because anxiety/PTSD has kept me awake until 5 a.m. I wish people wouldn’t say, ‘Oh that must be nice,’ when I say I’m unemployed living with parents. Not earning my own money or being a part of a team/work family really gets to me…” 

4. “How hard it is to even live a day doing nothing but being at war with your mind and body, fighting just to shower and get dressed, having so many thoughts and feelings that it makes you wonder is the next day worth it. Just being mentally tired all day.”

5.I wish others understood that I am a very hard worker and that I want to work. I want them to understand that it is not a choice. I have chosen to try to work in the past, but the only jobs I’ve been able to stay with are those with family or friends who have let me take a break or have mental health days when I can’t handle it.” 

6. “I’m not lazy or unwilling to work — I still have ambition. I’ve been able to cope with freelancing and doing work from home just fine. However, dealing with office politics, team meetings, long commutes on packed buses, management and unfamiliar environments is difficult for me. If I choose to work from home as a result of that, it doesn’t mean I’m abnormal. I may not earn as much, but I’d rather maintain my sanity and earn less, rather than push myself into a situation that doesn’t fit with my needs in terms of my anxiety disorder.”

7. “Working from home allows me to take breaks if I need to — I don’t feel trapped, I don’t have to hide in the toilets to have a panic attack, I don’t have to worry about phoning in sick and getting fired. Just because I can’t work a ‘traditional’ job doesn’t mean I’m useless. There’s plenty of other things I can do.”

8. “I wish people knew I didn’t want this. I don’t enjoy the time I have to take to go to therapy or the times where I have to get up and leave because I can’t hold myself together. People seem to think it’s a special privilege to go to therapy once a week and get out of work. It isn’t.” 

9. “I’m not ‘lucky’ to only be working a few days at my paying job. Every day is work for me and my mental illness is a 24/7 job in its own.” 

10.I just need time to heal while off work,and when I do return I know I’ll be better then ever…I’ve currently been off work since 2015… waiting on a court date for Social Security. Being off work is more overwhelming then anything in the midst of healing and being called lazy, cuz I just can’t. Maybe I need a bandage around my head to make things clearer.” 

11. “I wish people understood how demeaning their comments are.” 

12. “I wish people could understand how much I’d give to be out at work, how motivated I’d be, how much I’d love to have a job. I wish they’d stop assuming I’m lazy or lucky. I wish they’d understand that being at home isn’t like having a day off. It’s constant and it’s crushing and it got boring seven years ago.”

13. “I’m not a bad worker and I’m ‘asking for hand outs.’ I really want to do my best, but some days it’s really hard for me to put on a smile.” 

14. “Please don’t think I’m ‘exaggerating’ or ‘faking symptoms’ to get out of things. This only increases stigma of mental health, and of course made me feel worse.” 

15. “Being on food stamps and social security disability doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It was hard for me to swallow my pride and use social programs when I needed them. I want more than anything to have a normal life and be able to tell someone how many years I’ve been at a company.” 

16. “I wish people knew that my mental illness doesn’t define me. I wish people would understand I’m not damaged goods. I work hard… I give 150 percent into everything I do.” 

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

Black knitted bear and red and white knitted bear

Figen Murray Creates 'Bears Have Issues Too' Teddy Bears With Mental Illnesses

Figen Murray believes all adults should own a teddy bear. Murray, 56, a mental health counselor from Manchester, England, is the owner of Imperfect Hearts, an online store which sells knitted teddy bears with mental illnesses. “Anyone of us can suddenly become unwell with a mental health issue and living with this can be a [...]
stressed tired female teacher in classroom

Why Teachers' Mental Health Is at Risk

I am starting to lose track of how many education professionals I know who are fighting mental illness. Perhaps “fighting” is not the word, because some of us have come to either accept or embrace it; regardless, the number of people to whom I speak about it is staggering. Thinking about this, I posted on Facebook [...]
Woman talking in front of a crowd

Standing Up to Stigma This Mental Health Awareness Month

You know what I find outrageous? The fact that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. live with a mental illness, yet it is highly stigmatized and misunderstood as if is is rare.  As if “just eat already” were the three magic words that can cure anorexia.  As if one chooses to have a flight or [...]
Friends at the beach. Text reads: 28 things people with mental illness want to tell their friends, but don't

28 Things People With Mental Illness Want to Tell Their Friends, but Don't

Even with close friends, it can be hard sometimes to articulate what you need. And if you live with a mental health condition, your needs may feel…well, extra “needy.” But your needs are not needy, “too much” or “unreasonable” just because you live with a mental illness — they just might be harder to communicate, [...]