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6 tips for working productively if you live with a mental illness

12 Sep 2019

There are many ways you can look after your mental health at work, benefitting both your job and your wellbeing.

Stigma around mental illness has thankfully been fading away over the past number of years, but it’s still important to acknowledge that minding your mental health can sometimes fall by the wayside at work, particularly compared to physical health.

Instead of pushing through a tough period, it’s often better to accept what you can and can’t do, understanding your own personal circumstances. In the long run, it will not only benefit your wellbeing, but also your productivity and the quality of your work.

Around the world, 450m people live with a mental health disorder, according to the World Health Organization. Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental illness in Europe, with 18.5pc of the population in 2016 recorded as having a mental health disorder, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or alcohol or drug use.

Mental health conditions are not always visible, which means you can’t necessarily rely on someone from your team noticing and guiding you on when you should take a step back from work.

So, it’s important that you’re aware of how you’re doing and to base your days around that, so that you can work to the best of your present ability.

Workplace tips

Here are some strategies you could incorporate into your daily work routine if you live with a mental illness, as outlined in a piece by The New York Times.

1. Time off or flexible work schedules

You might need time off for a medical appointment or you may not be able to face heading into the office on certain days. Either way, it can be worthwhile discussing the potential of flexible work schedules with your employer.

2. A more accommodating work environment

If you find particular environments more conducive to your productivity, for example quieter spaces, it’s a good idea to ask your boss about your options, even if it’s just wearing some headphones.

3. Permission to work from home

Thanks to modern technology, it’s much easier to work remotely.

It’s well worth asking your employer about this if you think it would benefit you, but keep in mind that you’ll need to demonstrate that your productivity levels don’t drop when you’re working somewhere other than the office.

4. Save the repetitive, tedious work for your down days

If your job requires some creative thinking, it might be best to save that for the days when you feel you have better mental capacity.

5. Seek out the work style that suits your needs best

Don’t just work somewhere because it sounds great on paper. If it’s not living up to your expectations and your health needs, it might be time to make a move somewhere else.

6. Avoid trying to keep up with your co-workers

One of the worst things we can do to ourselves, whether it’s in school, college or the office, is to over-compare ourselves to our peers. Everyone has different abilities and methods of getting the work done. As long as you and your boss are satisfied with your results, that’s all that matters.

Be open, be informed

Disclosing details about your mental health to employers can be daunting, there’s no question about that. But, at the end of the day, you don’t want to be working in an environment that’s harder for you than it needs to be.

If you do discuss your mental health with your manager, maintain clear communication and ensure that any asks you make are within reason.

There are also legal protections that could be useful to familiarise yourself with.

The Employment Equality Acts protect people from employment discrimination, meaning that you shouldn’t be discriminated against in finding a job, keeping a job or doing work experience or vocational training if you live with a mental illness.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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