Sigmund Freud said that “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” I don’t know if this is true, but studies have shown definitively that meaningful work can be as important to recovery from mental illness as different types of therapy. While few (if any) of us can ever expect to become completely free of symptoms of mental illness, the right match can help you to reduce stress, find friends, reach out to the community, learn new skills, and even advance your career. Giving to others can also help protect your mental and physical health.
Experts say that people who work or volunteer have longer life spans, lower blood pressure, more regularly-exercised brains, take less medication, and use fewer medical services than their unemployed counterparts. Working people also recover from illness more quickly and are less susceptible to long-term illness and incapacity. Working and/or volunteering is especially beneficial for the physical and mental health of seniors.
Furthermore, according to Mental Health America, “working at something that is meaningful to you can bring you a sense of purpose that will anchor you.” Of course, this is just what many of us need: something to increase our feelings of self-worth, help us to reach personal goals, and enable us to meet new people. We need to feel and be connected to our communities and working and/or volunteering is a great way to achieve that connection.
For some people, having a mental illness doesn’t largely impact their ability to work. Others find themselves with quite limited capabilities after the onset of mental illness. However, once one is stable, s/he can generally find something meaningful to do that is suited to the skills or interests that s/he currently has. The key is to always have a goal. Setting goals gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation, which is as important for those living with mental illness as it is for anyone else. Perhaps it is even more important for us.
Living with a serious mental illness can rob you of many things that most view as fundamental needs: a healthy sense of self; a sense of accomplishment; motivation to complete even the most simple of tasks, such as brushing one’s teeth or making a grocery list. Goals help with all of these things and give us something to look forward to.
Of course, there are [things] that might make going to work seem impractical for someone with a mental health condition. Decreased energy, frequent medical appointments, and explaining long gaps in your resume, to name a few. However, there are ways to manage potential obstacles (such as with minor accommodations), as well as various supports that are available to help those who need them, such as the Shore House R & D unit, friends and family, and Employment Specialists. In the end, the benefits far outweigh the risks in most cases.
“The Health Benefits of Volunteering,” Office of Research and Policy Development, Corporation for National & Community Service, 2007.
“Volunteering May Be Good for Body and Mind,” Stephanie Watson, Harvard Health Publications, 2013.
“The Retirement Project,” The Urban Institute, 2006.
“Benefits of Working,” Fit For Work, 2017.
“Is Work Good for Your Health and Well-Being?” Gordon Waddell & A. Kim Burton, 2006.
Blog posts are written by Shore House members and staff.