Finding a job is a daunting process. For individuals who've been treated for mental illness, the job search is even more challenging, since they're often worried about discussing their time in treatment.
"Often there are two primary fears people have after being treated as an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital: 'How do I explain the gaps in my employment records?' and 'Do I need to disclose my mental illness?" says Brad Kennedy, a certified rehabilitation counselor with Pathfinder, The Menninger Clinic's community integration program.
Employers—with a few exceptions— can't legally ask applicants if they have a history of mental illness, he says.
"The gaps in time between jobs provide an excellent opportunity to volunteer and to clarify what you are looking for in a career," Kennedy continues. "You could also explain the gaps as taking care of a medical or family issue."
At Pathfinder, Kennedy helps clients identify their strengths and deficits, determine how they will accommodate their mental illness in the workplace and develop a plan to help them find a new job or keep their current job. He shares the following tips on finding meaningful work:
Clarify what you want. Take the time to really find out what kind of job would suit you. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you value in and out of the workplace? A career counselor or therapist can provide you with assessments and tools to help you find a job that aligns with your values and gives you purpose.
Tweak your job description. If you aren't satisfied with your current job, but want to stay at the same company, find ways to make it work, Kennedy says. He uses a tool called ' job sculpting" to help clients figure out what they like and don't like about their jobs, and determine what to change. "For most people who are further on in their career and have so much invested in it, it's a great way to make work more meaningful and enjoyable."
Learn coping strategies. Mental illness can make some aspects of working more challenging. If you struggle with interacting with others, practice your interpersonal skills. If concentrating on and completing tasks seem overwhelming, learn how to break projects down into small, manageable steps. A therapist can help you find ways to cope and be more confident in the workplace.
Find support. Turn to trained mental health professionals and career counselors for help. Contact your local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill for a list of resources in your area.