Finding and maintaining employment

One of the biggest challenges for people with mental illness can be finding and keeping a job.
[headline] Finding and maintaining employment

One of the biggest challenges for people with mental illness can be finding and keeping a job.

Sometimes people with a mental illness take time off work to focus on getting well. While some require weeks to recover enough to work again, others need months or even years.

For those who are out of the workforce for a long time, social isolation, reduction in income and sense of not contributing to society can damage their sense of self-worth and independence. This is in addition to the impact of the illness itself.
Why work?

For all of us, having a job is linked to how we see ourselves and our sense of contributing to society.

For many people, work provides them with a sense of purpose and helps them to focus on things other than their illness. It’s a reminder that although mental illness is very challenging, they are still active and capable people. Work also re-establishes a sense of self beyond that of being ‘someone affected by mental illness’.

Employment is also one of the most effective ways to help people recover, by providing income, independence and the dignity of a place in the community.

However, an essential part of being a productive and valued employee is making sure your symptoms are well managed, and that you feel understood and supported by colleagues and managers.
What about support?

Think about what support you would need to return to work, such as having a mentor or manager who understands your illness, flexible hours to attend appointments, or the opportunity of part-time work.

It’s important to remember that the degree of disability determines what’s possible and realistic when considering a return to work. Some people may only need to make small changes, while others may need to have significant workplace adjustments. For example, you may need to arrange for a later start time if you find that medication makes it harder for you to get going in the morning.

Write down some supports and changes that you feel would help you get back to work

Here’s a how-to guide: 

Be proactive 

• Identify and take charge of your own employment goals.
• Ask your mental health team how they can support you to attain your employment
• Identify and put into action self management and coping strategies.
• Get the job-specific skills and qualifications you need to attain your employment goals.
• Be clear about what you can and will do, and what you can’t and won’t do, and any
workplace accommodations that you may
require as a result.
• Have a plan about when and how you will disclose your experience of mental illness to
a prospective employer.
• Identify and seek employment with organisations that are known to value inclusion and diversity.
• Make personal contact with prospective

Recommendations for employees be considered 

• When and how you disclose your experience of mental illness to an employer is a personal decision – there are pros and cons to disclosing at the pre-employment stage, as opposed to once you are in employment.
Pros of disclosing pre-employment – you will be fulfilling your obligation to answer any questions regarding disability or health issues that could impact on the job truthfully; appropriate accommodations can be arranged in the workplace; support can openly be put in place; it feels more honest and establishes an open and honest relationship with the employer from the outset; you haven’t invested too much in the employment relationship if discrimination does occur; you can keep control of your disclosure, and don’t have to be worried about who knows and who does not; if an organisation is not going to be receptive and accommodating, then the workplace is not likely to be good for your mental wellbeing.
Cons of disclosing pre-employment – being discriminated against; not being employed.
Pros of disclosing after employment – no risk of discrimination at pre-employment stage; the employer is invested in the relationship; the employer is more likely to see the person rather than the illness.
Cons of disclosing after employment – risk of dismissal due to breach of pre-employment obligations; no accommodations and supports available; worry and stress about what will happen if you get unwell or are ‘outed’ by someone else; guilt about lying.

• Unless the organisation has a proactive strategy of employing people with
experience of mental illness, your CV is not the place to disclose your experience of mental illness.
• When you do disclose, provide the employer with information, solutions and benefits (e.g. Yes, but it doesn’t impact on my ability to do the job. I manage it well by doing …; In my previous work it has/hasn’t impacted in this way…; I have found this helpful/not helpful and would appreciate you considering me being accommodated by way of…; I bring value and diversity to the workplace because of my insights relating to mental health).
• Consider how you might use the 90-day trial period, e.g. by proposing it as an option for both you and the employer to trial any working arrangement; leaving disclosure until after that period.

Be positive

• Maintain a positive attitude and ethic to work.
• See yourself as a valued employee.
• View bad days as something that everyone has from time to time.
• Practice good ‘employee attributes’ (listening skills, honesty, organised, happy, optimistic, intelligent, communicative, friendly, respectful).

Be relationship-focussed 

• The relationship between an employee and employer is pivotal to positive and successful employment.
• Be open and honest with your employer.
• Communicate any issues and the support you require to your employer in a timely manner.


• Positive and successful employment for most people involves employers that value a friendly, respectful, communicative work environment, with a culture of flexibility, inclusion and diversity. It may take time, effort, trial and error to find, but persevere.

Such employers do exist and it is well worth finding them, in terms of job satisfaction and overall wellbeing.