Psychology Grad and HR Coordinator with BC Partners in Workforce Innovation, Maggie Schluter, shares career seeker savvy tips for British Columbians with
Mental illness affects virtually all Canadians at some point in their lives, either directly or indirectly. It is the leading cause of disability in Canada, yet many people experiencing mental illness still face stigmatization and encounter unique barriers to employment. Anxiety, low self-esteem, continued illness, gaps in work history due to illness, discrimination, and inflexibility of some employers are only part of the myriad of barriers that job seekers face. However, employment can be one of the best ways to promote positive mental health; not only does it provide an income, but being at work can be extremely rewarding; it gives purpose, a boost to self-esteem and confidence. Here are a few tips for people living with a mental illness who are in job search mode, looking for that next career opportunity.
Find the right opportunity for you
You have skills, abilities and talent! Take some time to find a job that is most suitable for you. Consider what your strengths are, what you enjoy doing, what types of people do you enjoy working with and what situations/stimuli in the workplace would be detrimental to your health or wellbeing. A few elements to think about are:
- Social environment. Working in an environment with other people can be beneficial, as long as others are not overly negative and you don’t feel distracted or overwhelmed in that environment. Someone with social anxiety may be more productive around a smaller number of people. Regardless of your situation, working entirely alone can often bring about feelings of isolation and loneliness. Give some thought to what type of environment helps contribute to your overall health and put yourself forward for those opportunities.
- Regular schedule. A reliable and predictable schedule can be critical for maintaining positive mental health. Do you like to have your days planned out in advance? Do you feel more comfortable with a consistent schedule each week? Particularly if you suffer anxiety, unpredictability or shifts that fluctuate between days and evenings can trigger acute episodes of anxiety. Jobs that require you to be on call, for example, may not be the best fit. What type of schedule allows for you to do and be your best?
- Shift hours. Another consideration is the length of shift and time between shifts – make sure that you have enough ‘down-time’ to relax, unwind, and to get enough sleep. Is a part-time shift or full-time best for you? Working until midnight and then returning to work at 6am is burdensome; sleep deprivation is one of the fastest ways to trigger mania in people with bipolar disorder. Not everyone is suited to fluctuating shifts. What hours can you reasonably work to keep your body and mind healthy?
Seek out opportunities with employers that are known to be good employers. Find a job that provides the opportunity for personal and professional growth, in line with your interests and passion. Working a job that you don’t like damages your mental health could lead to more time unemployed, making the process of finding another job even more difficult.
Present your best self
This tip is important for anyone. Why not go out of your way to make an effort to present your best self for in-person interviews. Self-grooming and interview attire leaves a first and lasting impression on interviewers. Arriving with kempt hair and a clean, professional outfit suggests that you care about the employment opportunity. Some people find it helpful to write a short to-do list to ensure that nothing is overlooked. Setting aside clothes for an interview the night before can also reduce some of the anxiety on the day of the interview. Remember you and the person interviewing you have at least one thing in common: you’ve both had to go through an interview in order to get the job.
Pre-employment screening assessments are often used in the early interview process. Intentional or not, many of these assessments incorporate personality measures that could screen out individuals with mental illness. It is easy to over-think responses to questions like “do you prefer to be around other people?” Preparing for these assessments with a vocational counsellor may be helpful for you to understand the types of questions that are asked and how to respond honestly and accurately, so you get screened-in.
Do you disclose your mental illness?
This is a tricky question and there isn’t a clear answer. Deciding whether or not to disclose a mental illness is a personal choice. Some people who experience anxiety with interviews find it helpful to take the edge off by mentioning up front that they find interviews stressful. That can remind the interviewer to intentionally focus on ways to help the candidate relax so they can answer questions more completely. A good interviewer will do that, so they don’t miss out on a valuable future employee! Also, if there’s a gap in employment history, it may be useful to disclose that for a period of time, you were attending to a personal health matter and now you are in a place where you are ready to work again. The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of mental illness. However, some discrimination is not intentional – an interviewer may inadvertently change their mannerisms during an interview and bias your responses to further questions. Companies that have adopted an inclusive hiring policy, ones that state their commitment to diversity and inclusion, are better able to adapt hiring processes to bring out the best in candidates.
Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health have recently adopted the Individual Placement Support (IPS) model to help people with mental illness find employment following recovery. If you have a mental health team, consider talking to them about vocational support. Take a look here to learn more about Supported Employment in the Greater Vancouver area, including our Service Partners:
If you need additional help with mental illness, there are several resources available. Heretohelp gives more information on possible sources. You can also call the Crisis Centre or try their online chat if you need to talk with someone on an urgent basis
If you are ready for employment – come talk to us
BC WiN helps employers recruit and retain people with diverse abilities, including mental illness. We start with employers who have job/career openings, and much like a recruitment firm, candidates are matched based on skills, abilities, career interests and experience. Because we are funded through the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, this service is free
Check out our job openings for more information on opportunities that we are currently helping employers recruit for. Qualified candidates or those assisting them can complete the contact form here, call us, or email our Recruitment Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org to apply. If you are applying for an opportunity listed, be sure to attach a resume and professional cover letter.
Be well and don’t hesitate to contact us with any further questions.