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Employment and Mental Illness: Managing Expectations

home office deskOne of the hardest aspects (for me) of having a mental illness is not just being productive, but managing to maintain productivity. This topic can truly be a “can of worms” as it entails a large contribution of social norms in the designation of someone as being “acceptably” productive.

For the sake of this discussion I’ll assume that the accepted level of productivity in this society is in the range of a 40-hour workweek. To most people that may seem like a reasonable expectation, but for someone with a mental illness, these expectations can be a major source of stress.

In the ten years that I’ve been experiencing psychological symptoms, I have started at and resigned from at least 15 different jobs (counting a few repeat incidents). In that time the longest period I sustained full-time work was under six months. The amount of stress that I felt due to my inability to retain employment was staggering, and more than once I returned from my first day of training in tears, knowing that I could not return or I would be risking a major meltdown. On few occasions I didn’t get out in time and I ended up suffering for extended periods, while still having to leave my place of work at some point.

My current situation is much different. I still cannot obtain reliable employment due to the instability of my condition, but I no longer feel the pressure to meet these expected goals of 40-hour weeks and reliable, consistent employment. The fact of the matter is that I am not currently capable of reaching these supposed standards, but I am content in the knowledge of my limitations. I can now focus on doing the things necessary to achieve my definition of happiness, rather than some prescribed regimen of day-to-day employment.

It is true that surviving on less than a 40-hour workweek is difficult, but it is not impossible. My circumstances have allowed me to become a professional freelance writer. This is not a typical job as I decide when I want to work. When I’m capable I’ll write enough to keep the collectors at bay, on a hypomanic day I might write a week’s worth of contracts, but I also have days where I’m incapable of doing anything at all.

I still need to seek a second source of income (more on that at a later date) but this is a good start that will work around my symptoms. The key to all of this is that I have found peace with the fact that I need to make adjustments in my employment expectations due to my psychological disorder. I will continue to do what I can do, and I will be happy in the knowledge that I am in tune with myself enough to reduce whatever stress I can. Now it’s society’s turn to make allotments as well.

Cheers all,


Photo by Bright Meadow, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Employment and Mental Illness: Managing Expectations

Steven Pace

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APA Reference
Pace, S. (2011). Employment and Mental Illness: Managing Expectations. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 21 Sep 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Sep 2011
Published on All rights reserved.