Mental Illness and Employment
We know our mental health will affect our performance at work, but it works both ways. In full-time employment we spend more of our life at work than anywhere else. If our environment isn’t something we are comfortable in or manageable for our illness, the consequences can be very serious.
What Is the Impact?
Stress is the biggest factor to consider. According to the American Institute of Stress, one million people in the United States miss work every day due to workplace stress?
We have stress at work and we have stress at home, and it is impossible to just leave it at the door. The impact of this is huge. There is often an expectation, particularly at work, to just forget about our outside problems and simply focus on the tasks ahead. While some are capable of doing this, home stress can affect performance, attitude and efficiency.
I know when I have had problems I have lacked concentration, felt low in mood, been irritable with other colleagues, and wanted desperately to be left alone. I remember a member of my team saying in their appraisal that my mood could affect the whole office. As a manager I had to accept the feedback, but it was incredibly difficult to digest. I didn’t want to intentionally affect anyone, but it was evident I was.
When you take stress to work, it affects relationships at the office. On the other hand, taking stress home affects personal relationships.
Sometimes we just need to rant and this can put stress on other people who want to relax and forget their day’s troubles. With long-term stress, relationships can potentially be destroyed. Family and friends often develop a level of understanding for loved ones with diagnosed bipolar disorder, but many people live with their illness unrecognized, leaving all parties unable to cope with the variable changes in behavior.
My Past Employment
I haven’t worked full-time for seven years due to my bipolar disorder, which resulted in medical retirement. Now, most of my work is voluntary. I watch friends, family and old colleagues surpass the senior positioning I once held and often wonder how the career path I envisioned for my life stopped so abruptly.
I studied hard at college and graduated with a high degree in marketing. Afterwards, I worked hard and proved to be a dedicated, ambitious woman, receiving a number of promotions as a result.
My last full-time job was a senior account manager role for a branding and design agency, but my ultimate vision was to be on the board of directors. I welcomed the heavy workload and stress to push myself further and demonstrate my ability.
Work was my life. I strived for recognition and to feel successful. I now realize those feelings are impossible to achieve if you do not have a true understanding and acceptance of yourself. In fact, I should have been aiming for contentment on a daily basis instead of thinking only of tomorrow.
Bang — Everything Stopped
There is no other way to explain it. The stress of work combined with a relationship breakdown, family problems, and escapism through an eating disorder ended my chosen career. I remember my moods changing; I was irritable, forgetful, couldn’t concentrate and became overemotional. I carried around a sad knot of fear but had no clue what was wrong.
After a prolonged period of starving myself and bingeing, I gorged on desserts at work one day. I drove the five minutes home and purged until I couldn’t recognize my red, swollen face.
Next page: Fliss describes her diagnosis and how her professional life was impacted