Life in Balance

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Meaningful Activity

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By Michelle Scott
There are a lot of misconceptions around mental health issues and employment. Many people believe that people with mental health issues are unwilling or unable to work, when this is not the case. In fact, for many people, finding and maintaining meaningful productive activity is a large part of the recovery process. There is indeed a bidirectional relationship between mental health and employment status; not being meaningfully employed negatively affects one’s mental health status, and mental health issues negatively affect one’s ability to maintain employment. This is why it’s so important to have programs and organizations that offer employment and employment programs for people who are in recovery. It is vital for people with mental health issues to have the opportunity to engage in productive and purposeful activity, because productive activity builds feelings of self-efficacy, self-esteem. Having an opportunity to volunteer or work also builds employment-specific skills and general skills such as social and communication skills.

For someone who has had to take time off work to deal with mental health issues, sometimes a transitional approach to returning to employment is a good idea. It’s important that the lines of communication remain open between the employer, the employee, and any workers that the employee is working with (such as occupational therapists or career counselors). Employers, therapists, and employees can all work together to design a return to work program that maximizes the possibility of a successful return to work for the employee. But this requires an open-minded employer who understands the facts about mental health issues.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of organizations out there that actively create space for people with mental health issues and other concerns. There is also a growing awareness about the issue in the media. A recent article in the Globe and Mail (which you can find here http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/working-wisdom-how-workers-with-disabilities-give-companies-an-edge/article23236023/) highlights several stories of people in recovery from mental health issues who found and maintain meaningful employment. For instance, one young woman with anxiety, depression, and anorexia, shares her feelings about what her work means for her.
“In terms of stability and just being able to function in general, this job has really pulled me out of my shell. It’s done more for me than I think any psychiatrist or doctor or any medication could ever have done,” Ms. Whiteway said. “Working there, nobody judges me, everybody’s very understanding … it’s just accepting and the only thing they want you to do is just do a good job.”
While self-disclosure in the work place is a personal choice, it is wonderful to know that there are more and more employers out there who are welcoming and supportive of individual’s needs and goals. We can all do our part to challenge the misconceptions about mental health issues and the workplace, because everyone deserves to have access to meaningful activity and purposeful occupations.

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