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To Anyone Who's Unemployed Because of a Mental Illness

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First of all, you are amazing.

You have the strength, courage and determination it takes to live with (and sometimes fight against) a mental illness every day. That is hard work in itself, and not something to be taken lightly.

Whether you’ve never been able to work — or you’re just taking some time off — your value does not depend on what you do or don’t do. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. 

I know this now, but it took me a long time to learn. I have bipolar disorder and have battled with eating disorders for as long as I can remember, and yet regardless of how unwell I was, I always worked even when my life was at risk. For such a long time, I thought and was told that I was only worthwhile if I was working. But eventually I had to take time off. My mental health was being affected significantly, and at certain points my life was in danger. I could not cope with the pressure alongside everything else I was trying to manage at the time. I was taking time off due to hospital admissions, exhaustion and stress. I was even bullied at one job simply because I had mental health problems.

We put so much pressure on ourselves and we are judged by others because of our mental health problems. Employment is just one of the areas in which we experience this. And yet, most of us don’t hesitate to take a sick day when we’re throwing up or battling an awful cold. Others would not expect us to show up if that were the case. The impact of mental health problems on all aspects of life, including employment, can be equally significant and should be treated no differently. Therefore, despite the pressures we put on ourselves and the expectations of many people, it is completely valid and acceptable to not work due to mental health. 

Currently, I’m lucky enough to be able to work part-time. This is only due to finally finding medications that work for me and because of the huge support and acceptance I’ve received from others, including my employers. I am no longer asked why I am not working, but I’m still often asked why I only work part-time. I still feel embarrassed and sometimes worthless because of this, and I feel like I have to justify myself a lot of the time. There is no way I could manage full-time work alongside maintaining my mental health. I would prefer to, as I would be better off financially, but it is just not an option for me right now. And I am learning to accept that.

We need to give ourselves credit for what we do manage and not what we can’t — even if that is getting out of bed, making it out the house or simply surviving. I’m the same person I was when I did work full-time. I am the same person I was when I was unable to work at all. I am the same person whatever others may think, and I should not have to justify myself. I am strong, I have value and worth regardless of whether I work or not. And so do you.   

Photo by Jurica Koletić on Unsplash

Originally published: May 21, 2019
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