Can people with schizophrenia work? Absolutely. The bigger question is: What kind of job qualities will work best for you?
When you have a mental health condition, questions surrounding careers can be complicated.
While you search for answers about what your work life can look like, keep in mind that people with mental health conditions can find meaningful work in environments that best set them up for success.
If you have schizophrenia, you might be wondering if you can work and what job possibilities you have. People living with schizophrenia can not only work, but can thrive in their vocation.
A 2016 study analyzed how high-achieving individuals with schizophrenia manage their symptoms along with their work lives.
Researchers across law, social work, and medicine found the following strategies helpful for people with schizophrenia who are fulfilling their career goals:
- staying away from nonprescription drugs, alcohol, stressful situations, and other triggers
- reaching out for social support from allies
- taking medications as directed (medication compliance)
- practicing strategies learned from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- creating a soothing and simplified environment, such as clearing clutter or playing music
- engaging in spirituality
- focusing on well-being through exercise and diet
- continuing education
Here are three additional strategies that may help as you plan, take action toward your career goals, and think about what can be improved:
Explore careers that work for you
You’re free to explore what kind of job works for you — from self-employment to a career in your dream industry. While you may experience challenges due to your symptoms, you’re not limited in career exploration.
Maintain routine care
Continually trying to connect with affordable professionals who care about you and your progress isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly worth it — especially as you manage a job or job search.
Heal from negative past job experiences
If you’ve experienced past work struggles, such as encountering stereotypes, low performance reviews, or unfair termination, you may have internalized some discouraging beliefs that can keep you from getting back out there.
- recover from self-defeating thoughts
- increase work motivation
- improve work outcomes
Wherever possible, you can consider working toward letting go of the past in order to move forward. This might include:
- devoting a few therapy sessions to work-related issues
- reaching out to a career coach if you are able
- joining a support group
In a society that can be ableist, it’s understandable to have internalized ableism and stigma.
Even as you validate how society has affected you, breaking free from stigma and practicing self-acceptance may help you start fresh every day at work.
Consider your relationship to productivity
When evaluating your work life, it can be helpful to zoom out and examine the ways the “the rat race” — a fast-paced, competitive, and often endless work routine — has shaped your values around work and how you relate to productivity.
It’s helpful to know your strengths outside of what you do for income.
Esmé Weijun Wang is the author of “The Collected Schizophrenias” and lives with schizoaffective disorder. In her book, she describes how even our psychiatric criteria for a person needing “minimal support” is hinged upon having a job.
“A capitalist society values productivity in its citizens above all else, and those with severe mental [disorders] are much less likely to be productive in ways considered valuable: by adding to the cycle of production and profit,” she writes.
While it is possible to be very productive with schizophrenia, it can be helpful to remember your value always exists outside your job, your title, and the size of your paycheck.
Even by following all the evidence-based best practices for managing a career with schizophrenia, you might find that you aren’t ready to work right now, or you need extended time off to focus on your health. That’s perfectly valid.
Here are some resources and information about your rights:
- World Health Organization:
Protecting Workers’ Health
- United Nations: Article 27 on Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) blue book for disability benefits also includes a section for schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders. It outlines criteria to determine eligibility:
A combo of A and B, or A and C
A. Medical documents of at least one:
- delusions or hallucinations
- disorganized speech
- extremely disorganized behavior or irregular movements
B. Severe limitation of one, or noticeable limitation of two areas of mental functioning:
- ability to understand, remember, or apply information
- interactions with others
- concentrating on or maintaining pace
- self-regulation (the ability to manage oneself)
C. A medically documented history of diagnosis for at least 2 years, with evidence of both:
- medical treatments or therapies that manage your symptoms
- limited capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to new environmental demands
You can apply for SSA benefits online, in person at a local office, or on the phone at 800-772-1213.
No matter how work life has gone for you in the past, that does not define today. Many folks living with schizophrenia find careers that help them thrive in work and life.
With a treatment plan that works for you, there’s no reason you can’t lead a fulfilling life — both in and out of the workplace. And if you’re facing challenges at the moment, you have rights to get the benefits you deserve.