Mental illness affects more than 40 million Americans*, and touches one in five people living and working in our communities. Yet stigma around mental illness, derived from a lack of education and history of treatment, makes these invisible conditions difficult to discuss especially in a professional setting. Having a purpose, like meaningful employment can significantly affect how a person with mental illness manages his or her condition, although the roller coaster of highs and lows that often come with any long-term illness can bring challenges to those in the workforce.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services (DERS) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program has resources to help individuals living with mental illness thrive in school and the workplace, and live independently. DERS also provides services to individuals dealing with serious mental illness (SMI) who utilize the resources of many behavioral health clinics throughout the state.
Finding ways to manage mental illness in a professional setting can be a challenge. Here are tips to ease the effects, even in the most high-paced company.
- Enjoy that morning Cup O’ Joe Studies show that a cup of coffee can actually boost your mood and mental state.
- Find quiet in the storm Adorn your workspace with items that make you feel calm and peaceful. Take breaks, especially when you feel yourself getting agitated. Read a book, meditate, stretch at your desk, or redirect your mind with apps created to decrease Antistress such as Destress, Wysa, or Booster Buddy.
- Do what you love and what you’re good at – Americans spend an average of 47 hours per week at work, and for those living with a mental illness, working in a vocation in which you excel can boost your sense of purpose and selfesteem. Working in a job that is not in alignment with your core beliefs and/or passions can lead to or increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Get moving Studies show that physical activity can improve mood, decrease sluggishness, spark creativity and lessen the effects of some mental illnesses. At work, employees can try chair yoga, find a private place to stretch or go for a walk.
- Talk to someone Persons with a mental illness are not required to disclose their conditions with their employer; however, speaking up can open opportunities to access workplace supports and accommodations. Many companies also offer free or lowcost behavioral health resources for employees.
- Get a note Ask your doctor or VR counselor for a note explaining if you require special accommodations at work.
- Know your limitations “It is so crucial to be selfaware,” says Betty Schoen, who has been diagnosed with a mental illness and been successfully employed for 31 years. Schoen says individuals in the workforce who are living with a mental illness need to know their restrictions and ask for help if needed. She advises to be on the lookout for symptoms, like fatigue, high absenteeism, decline in physical health, not wanting to come to work and feeling overwhelmed. Schoen actually changed jobs after realizing a former position caused her far too much stress.
At DES, we challenge you to help us #curestigma by talking about mental illness and seeking help if you are struggling. The VR program is free and available to anyone who is living with a mental illness or disability. Please visit our Rehabilitation Services page if you are having a difficult time either finding or retaining employment because of a mental illness or disability.
In Arizona, help for a mental illness can be found by going to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Arizona website or the Mental Health America of Arizona website.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or are in crisis, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text "Connect" to 741741. If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, learn about the warning signs.
Find free mental health resources in Arizona here.
Sources: Families for Depression Awareness by Paul Pendler, Psy.D., ABPP, National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America
For more information, visit www.des.az.gov.
Read the text version of the Mental Health Awareness Month - Infographic.
By Jillian Seamans