There is a perception amongst many in society that having a mental health condition means you are unable to achieve as much in your career as somebody who does not.
You are often judged as weak and it is believed that you will not be able to cope under the strain of a stressful role within an organisation.
Whilst it is important to recognise that mental health can have a detrimental impact on your working life, I think it is equally important to acknowledge that mental health conditions can also equip you with traits which make you an even more valuable employee.
So let’s get into this…
First off, mental health conditions are not a sign of weakness. They can affect anybody at any time and obviously should never be factored into a recruitment decision by an employer. The majority of the time, if reasonable adjustments are made to support an employee who requires them then they will be in a position to thrive in the long term.
Secondly, there is not always a correlation between a heavy workload and mental illness. Yes, workplace stresses can trigger some people’s existing conditions or contribute to the development of a mental illness. However, this is not true for everyone.
For example, I have anxiety. However, my anxiety does not become worse when I am stressed at work. In fact, my anxiety is more likely to overwhelm me when I am completely relaxed at home alone with my own thoughts.
In the past my anxiety has overwhelmed me causing me to struggle at work (and in life generally) for periods of time. However, this was never caused by my job. In fact, being able to channel my anxious mind into my work has often provided me with a positive outlet that has improved my mental health.
Over the years I have learnt how to manage my anxiety and flip the negative sides of the condition into positives. Going through the experiences I have and utilising the way my mind works positively has meant I have developed the following traits which actually make me a more valuable asset to an employer…
My anxiety has overwhelmed me in the past when my mind has become obsessed and focused on irrational existential fears.
Putting so much energy into contemplating life’s big questions and causing myself distress obviously serves no positive purpose to me.
However, since I have learnt to let my irrational anxious thoughts pass without engaging them, I have realised the ability I have to focus and obsessively work on projects. This has the power to be an extremely positive trait in my working life.
My mind is always whirring and it means I pour myself into projects. I don’t believe in doing something unless I’m going to give it my all.
This focus has enabled me to progress within my career and has also allowed me to put so much time into my work around mental health. If I did not have anxiety, I do not believe that I would have this trait.
The journey I have been through with my mental health has also increased my self-confidence massively.
True, my confidence took an enormous hit when I was going through my worst times. I withdrew from the world and did not put faith in myself. However, going through that and coming out the other side has made me so resilient.
Over the past year or so I have opened up completely to everybody in my life about my mental health. Doing so was a massive fear for me because of the stigma attached to the subject. However, people have been so supportive and I now feel so comfortable in who I am.
I’m now unashamedly me. I believe in myself and I will always do what I think is right regardless of what other people think. I’ve always had that within me but I’m now able to overtly show it.
Going through really tough times with my mental health has given me a great sense of perspective.
I rarely get wound up or stressed out about day-to-day issues in the workplace that seem to annoy others so much. This is because I can see what is important in life – the health and wellbeing of myself and those around me.
Making a mistake at work or having a disagreement with a colleague have the potential to really upset some people. I always strive to be my best but when things do go wrong I can keep calm and see the bigger picture.
Having been through extremely tough times with my mental health, I can see that day-to-day issues aren’t the end of the world – they can be resolved.
For me, the stress of work is nothing compared to the existential anxious thoughts which used to plague me!
Similarly, going through difficult times has also given me a great sense of motivation to make the most of my life now that I feel good in myself.
I know what it feels like to have the possibility of enjoying life taken away because of my mental health. Now that I am managing my conditions, I am determined to make the most of my skill-set in order to achieve my ambitions and live a happy life.
I am no longer content with just making it through each day as I was when my anxiety was on top of me. I now have a hunger within me to pursue my goals. I want to make sure that I can look back on my life and feel proud at what I’ve achieved.
As a result of my mental health, I am also a much more understanding and caring person.
I am even more open-minded and I try not to judge peoples’ actions at face value. I know from my own experiences that appearing uninterested in conversation or withdrawing from a situation isn’t always a case of being rude. Sometimes there is more going on in somebody’s life than you realise.
I am passionate about supporting others and helping people develop in their lives and careers. As a consequence of my own experiences, I am particularly focused on making sure that people get the help that they need as soon as possible if they’re struggling with their mental health.
This nurturing and supportive approach allows me to play an important role within a team set-up.
By making assumptions about a person’s abilities based on the fact they have a mental health condition, employers are potentially missing out on individuals who are extremely talented.
Having a mental health condition does not equal being unable to have a ‘normal’ or stressful job.
In fact, as I have demonstrated, having a mental health condition can lead an individual to develop as a person in terms of traits such as resilience, perspective and compassion.
Going through these experiences can leave an individual better equipped for a role than somebody who has not.
It is also important to recognise that just because somebody has struggled with their mental health in the past, it doesn’t mean they will in the future.
In fact, they are likely to be better equipped to deal with low points with their mental health than somebody who has not been through that previously.
What I’m trying to say to employers is that people should not be labelled and judged because of a mental health condition. You need to keep an open mind and assess people on their individual merits. You’ll probably be positively surprised!
And to you – don’t necessarily view your mental health condition or the awful experiences you may have been through as wholly negative. Often going through difficult times develops you as a person and leads you to achieving things that you may never have done without them.