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Mental Illness and the Benefits of Work

I’m grateful we have a social safety net. It’s important to help people pull themselves up, and to provide care for those who cannot support themselves because of serious disability.

The net may not be cast broadly enough, as too many people who need help are denied services. That said, the most important thing that led to my recovery from serious mental illness was being denied Social Security disability income.

I believe that many, if not most, people with mental illness want to recover and to successfully manage life with illness. They achieve wellness by applying the treatments prescribed for them, and by using whatever adjunct therapies work for them. Others work just as hard, but are tragically treatment resistant, and find little solace.

But I was shocked when during my first hospitalization I encountered other patients in the day room trading tips on how to game the system.

12 Comments to
Mental Illness and the Benefits of Work

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  1. This is a very good article. I am a therapist and work with mentally ill people at a partial hospitalization program. Once a patient gets on disability, it is nearly impossible to get off. They are encouraged to sit back and do nothing, which harms their mental health in the long run. While not all are able to work, many can, and need encouragement. I work to help those who can get jobs, and prepare for the real world, where many do belong.

    • I got off SSDI/SSI for about eight months. I worked in the mental health field those months and sadly was unable to continue. If I could find a part time job that could work with me and my limitations I would jump at it. I feel worthless not being able to work and financially it is very very difficult. I wish there was more protection and flexibility in place for those times when the illness takes over.

      • I agree this was a very good article. However, the part at the end: ” Unjustly, disability insurance does not offer the chance to try to work and fail, and then regain benefits without a lengthy waiting period. Being on long-term disability becomes a trap that can be hard to escape from. Policy must be changed. But I believe that those who choose to become self-sufficient can find a way. And once that way has been found, real healing will begin.

        That is actually hurtful and incorrect. I was going to college when I became diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and ocd. I received good grades; I just couldn’t function properly day to day to adequately and properly do my tasks. I only have myself as a support. I couldn’t keep up with everything. I was so alone and trying my darndest to stay “normal”. I’m smart; it’s just the disorder takes over and makes me into something a little different. Yes, I have days I can function pretty normally and do great, but other days I can barely go through the motions no matter how badly I want to, or try to make myself. I have busted my butt to get the information I have. There is very little help to offer for people like me. I have gone through DBT therapy. I choose to be more self-sufficient because I have no choice. I don’t believe there is one. If I don’t want to try to live a life worth living than I may as well be dead. I would love to try to work. However, with that adds all the other pressure and triggers that go along with it which result in more meds, hospitalizations, and some of my symptoms increase. A job that would understand my illness and accept it would be a life changer. In this disease, having a support system is huge but not always possible for some. So if I’m working in a normal environment then and I get stuck in a rut for days? Am hospitalized? Emotional? Are you saying that I wasn’t trying hard enough because I don’t WANT it enough? (I want that almost more than anything!) What happens to my bills when that happens? Am I supposed to go homeless, hungry? What do you think that will do to a person like me? They aren’t going to want to pay me when I’m not working, then what? I am happy to hear the person that wrote that part of the article is able to lead a healthy life. In reality, not everyone has the same circumstances and is that lucky, or has the ability or means to find the correct help they need to be completely successful.

    • Hey Nathan,

      I am writing to you to ask if you would like to join me in the fight for social reform against those with disabilities and make it illegal for employers to tell others what I’ve been told.

      I was trying to apply for a job at one store for many years and they always told me the same thing to leave my name and number with them and when something opens up, that they will give me a call. Well, apparently something did open up, because I would see new employees working there all the time.

      This had been going on for many years, and I asked the manager there why was I never considered for a job even though I had been applying there for many years and she said that they don’t hire everyone, just the ones that they feel would be a good fit for their company. I was told that I was not to be hired because they felt that I would not be a good fit for their company.

      Please bear in mind that the application that I used was only where I had written down my name and number and not one in which I had the chance to list my work history or credentials or experiences or anything else like that. So, technically they would have no way of knowing that if I had not gotten the chance to fill out a proper application or was even asked to come in for an interview.

      Would you like to join forces with me in maybe getting a law signed that says that all job seekers must be given a fair shot to actually apply and not be dismissed based on an employer’s vibe, misjudgments or assumptions?

  2. I like this article. Both times I applied for SSDI, I got it in less than three months. The first time, I stayed on it until I graduated college, and then went to work. Now, I am on it for the second time. I am however working at a very part time job. I only work 13.5 hours a week, so I can still keep my disability while working. Will I be able to return to full time work and go off disability? I don’t know. But, I do know that my small job now is very important in my daily life/recovery/stability. My biggest fear is that I will lose my disability benefits and no longer have access to the medical care (doctor’s visits and medicines) I need to stay healthy.

  3. I badly want to work but am unable to find a job that can work around my limitations. There are times when I can function with no problems and be extremely productive. Then there are the times when I can’t get out of bed and can’t physically make it to a job. I need flexibility and there really isn’t any in today’s job market, especially in the fields I have experience in (human services). I’m in a horrible financial situation and SSDI/SSI doesn’t cover my bills. I’m taking baby steps as I can with volunteering a lot at my church and have done a work share one day a week for four hours at a farm this summer, missing only one day so far. In addition to my mental illnesses I also have hearing loss which makes a lot of work from home stuff unrealistic for me. I’ve been searching for something and hope I find something this year.

    • Mary, would you like to join forces with me? I want to start a program called Jewels For Justice where it helps people with disabilities such as myself who are fed up, frustrated with being rejected and passed-over the opportunity to become entrepreneurs so that they can have the opportunity to be able to make some money for themselves?

  4. I take your points and appreciate you writing them.

    As an advocate for disabled people going through the process of acquiring Social Security disability benefits, I am always thrilled when a client actually finds work at which they succeed. It’s a joyous occasion! And I am happy to “lose” such a case!

    For the people with mental illnesses who cannot succeed in the world of work, and have tried and tried and tried, Social Security really must be that safety net.

    Unfortunately stories like yours will be taken by some to mean that ALL people with mental illnesses can achieve as you have, and do not need Social Security disability benefits.

  5. The big problems are, as the author wrote, the low expectations society and the mental health establishment have of those diagnosed and disabled. Menial jobs, while often better than nothing, do not yield to learning new, valuable skills and ultimately, self-sufficiency. People are still eligible for a host of benefits under the current system while working low-level, low-paid jobs, from which they’ll likely never advance. The main problem is the condescending mental health establishment: along with many of their younger practitioners and support staff that speak to clientele like they have low IQs (addressing them in slow, drawn-out speech, etc.), they sometimes set unrealistic occupational “goals”: Either a low level job (as described), or one that the client simply cannot perform and/or will directly exacerbate symptoms. These usually include jobs that involve working closely with other staff, that are too closely supervised, and require constantly dealing with the public. The client will then relapse or have an even bigger mental episode as a result. The practitioners will then pathologize the client’s condition further, to the point of declaring them totally unfit for work, or conversely, as malingering. If this wasn’t such a politically correct, superficially socially-oriented society, where it’s all about “people skills,” then many others would find gainful work.

  6. I would like more elaboration about the people in the hospital that were trying to game the system because I suspect they were just discussing the benefits available to them.

  7. I’m currently on disability and want to get off it because I’m embarassed to be on it. The problem is that one day I’m okay and the following day I’m falling into depression. I have to take anxiety medicine on a daily basis and have social phobia. I worked for a long time, but as I’ve got older I’ve noticing that I have become sicker. I understand that having a job is important and does help, but at the same time because of my phobia it makes me sicker and depressed. I’m also scared of trying to get a job and not being able to get on disability if I need it. Having a mental illness is extremely hard to deal with.

  8. I agree much with this. Work is a therapy itself. It seems Mental illness is made into a chronic, severe illness to stay on SSDI. What about persons with more mild mental illness? There’s no room to grow on my part-time work. I think there’s some pilot study with BOND, but not available yet where you can earn more.



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