In 2009, I entered a writing competition. Run by the Black Dog Institute in Sydney and the topic was mental health issues in the workplace.
I live with bipolar disorder. I know firsthand the issues facing people with a mental illness as they look for work.
I wrote an essay for the competition called “Chase Cash or Pursue Passion?” I’ll tell you how I went at the end of this article.
October is Mental Health Awareness Month. During October, every one of our blog posts will address a mental health topic.
Kevin Dent and David Hoppner helped me write this article. They’re both Community Liaison Officers at JobCo. JobCo is a service that provides job seekers with support in finding work. They can help with things like:
Identifying suitable work.
Writing resumes and cover letters.
Preparing for job interviews.
Kevin says that employment improves recovery by up to 80%. Having a job improves your life in all areas, including financial, social, a sense of worth, and your family.
We’re defining getting back to work as returning to work after a mental health episode. You can use these tips whether you’ve been in the workforce before or you’re looking for your first job.
Here are the 7 tips:
Identify your unique contribution.
Take baby steps.
Ramp up your job-seeking skills.
Progress through the cash-flow quadrants.
Work harder than anyone else.
Tap into the supports available.
Gain independence, then master interdependence.
Why Work? Knowing Your Purpose
Have you identified your purpose? If you haven’t, how do you know if your job is going to support you in fulfilling that purpose?
Too many people start from the bottom-up with what’s going on right now. But how can you see the forest if all you can see are trees?
Tip 1: Identify Your Unique Contribution
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl says we detect rather than invent our mission. And this is where you should start, with writing a personal mission statement.
Your mission statement will then inform your decisions about work. It will answer what kind of work you’ll do and how you’ll go about it.
How Do You Approach Work? Deciding What Steps to Take
Tip 2: Take Baby Steps
When you have mental health conditions, it’s easy to take on so much you feel overwhelmed.
Take the opposite approach.
Using your personal mission statement. Work out what work will inspire as you fulfill your mission.
Then make a list of all the steps you can take to get that job. These steps could include:
Create a LinkedIn profile.
Set up an alert on LinkedIn for jobs that appeal to you.
Add connections on LinkedIn.
If steps like these still seem too big, break them down further.
One helpful way to think about is what’s the next physical action you can take to reach your goal. This means it’s something you can do where you don’t need to do anything else before it.
Pro-tip: start with volunteer work
One baby step I used to get back into work following manic episodes of bipolar disorder was to volunteer.
As a volunteer, you have the freedom to assess your abilities. You can see if you can handle workplace stress. You’ll gain confidence.
And you’ll arrive at a sense of what is sustainable employment for you.
Tip 3: Ramp Up Your Job-Seeking Skills
Recruiters advertise 87% of jobs on LinkedIn. Are you using LinkedIn?
LinkedIn brings the power of networking online. You can see how you’re connected to the person who has advertised the job. This lets you reach out to the employer through someone you know.
Not having a LinkedIn profile is a red flag to potential employers. Even if you’re applying for a job from another site, 64% of employers will check your LinkedIn profile.
You’ll still need a resume and a cover letter. These haven’t vanished yet.
And perhaps the most powerful way to get a new job remains the same as it always has: Word of mouth also known as networking.
Tip 4: Progress Through the Cashflow Quadrants
In his book Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant, Robert Kiyosaki outlines the path to wealth.
Let’s look at each of his quadrants in greater detail.
Most people start (and end) their journey to wealth as an employee. You’re reading this article because you’d like to become an employee. But understanding the Cashflow Quadrants helps you develop a career strategy.
For Kiyosaki, the purpose of a job is to learn the skills for you to move into the next quadrant.
Instead of choosing a job that you can do for life, choose one that will let you learn new skills. The skills you want to learn are the ones that will allow you to fulfil your mission.
When you’re self-employed, you replace an external boss with being your own boss.
Some people in this category describe themselves as entrepreneurs, but they’re not. They’re still trading time for money, which impedes wealth creation.
When you’re self-employed, you already have the technical skills to do your job. You should learn the skills to prepare you for the next quadrant.
At this level, you have a team of people who you manage.
Your team does the grunt work and you focus on marketing and management.
The focus here shifts from trading time for money to trading value for money.
In this final quadrant, you take the money you’ve saved and invest it into many businesses.
You draw on the experience you’ve gained as you’ve worked through the quadrants.
You’re now trading money for money. Your money now works for you.
Remember, the purpose of going over these quadrants was for you to be strategic in your career.
Tip 5: Work Harder Than Anyone Else
In his book The Phoenix Transformation, Brian Tracy recommends this approach. Start an hour earlier and finish an hour later.
During these extra two hours, focus on adding value to your employer. Your employer may never know you’re doing this unpaid work. But they will notice the extra value you’re bringing and will reward you for it.
In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill says you must add value BEFORE you expect increased rewards.
Adding value is what you’re aiming to learn through the Cashflow Quadrants.
A caveat though for people with mental health issues. Limit the extra time you spend to one hour before work and one hour after work.
Living with bipolar disorder, I’m often tempted to do too much. Practice self-care as you increase your value.
What Kind of Work to Do? Choosing the Right Job
Tip 6: Tap Into the Supports Available
The months following a mental health episode can be one of the best times to tap into supports. Mental health services want to get you back on track.
If you’re on the NDIS, you may have or get funding to help you look for work and keep a job once you have it.
The SALT Foundation is an NDIS provider and charity. We don’t provide employment services, but you can learn more about us and what we provide.
But even if you’re not on the NDIS, Centrelink can connect you into employment services that can help.
JobCo is one such employment service. They can work with you whether you’re on the NDIS or come through Centrelink. You don’t need to have NDIS funding specifically for job-seeking to use JobCo.
Tip 7: Gain Independence Then Master Interdependence
Many people with mental health challenges find themselves dependent on others.
One definition of depression is “learned helplessness.” If you’re helpless, then you need others to provide the help that you’re not providing yourself.
But you can learn how to become independent and then interdependent.
Independence means you can handle everyday challenges yourself. When you’re independent, the amount of ongoing support you need lessens. The primary goal of the NDIS is to empower participants to become independent.
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But there’s a step above independence. Interdependence means you achieve more with other people than on your own.
You still have support from people in place and you’re able to work with them to create a safe and healthy workplace.
You may also tap into other health services so you can address any other mental health problems as they come up.
Becoming interdependent is key to managing a mental health issue into the future.
Conclusion: One of the Best Things You Can Do with a Mental Illness is Return to Work
When you live with a mental health challenge, it’s easy to feel you have to settle with what you get. You may think you’ll never earn more than the Disability Support Pension.
But you don’t have to settle. Have high standards for yourself and work step by step to get work for yourself to support your recovery.
How did I go in the Black Dog Institute writing competition? I came second. It was a confidence boost. In the essay, I argued that whether you have a mental illness, it’s best to pursue passion.
3 Takeaways to Help You Get a Job
Here are three takeaways from this article:
Know why you want to work. How does work itself fit into your purpose for your life? Connect your work to your personal mission.
Outline the steps you’ll take to get back into the workforce. Break down the steps as small as possible so you can act.
Lots of kinds of jobs will let you fulfil your purpose. Apply for ones that will teach you the skills you need to fulfil your purpose.
Do you have any tips for getting back into the workforce? Share them in the comments.
Daniel G. Taylor is a mental health speaker. Daniel teaches people affected by mental health personal development principles so they can reach their goals and achieve their potential. He lives with bipolar disorder and has developed a lot of tools and strategies for staying well long term. He’s the author of “Staying Sane: How to Master Bipolar Disorder for Life” and a contributor to “Mastering Bipolar Disorder: An Insider’s Guide to Managing Mood Swings and Finding Balance” edited by Kerrie Eyers & Gordon Parker (Allen & Unwin, 2010).