Work and mental health
Work and mental health

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Work and mental health

1 Rewards and challenges

… ‘an endless significance lies in Work’; a man perfects himself by working. Foul jungles are cleared away, fair seed fields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal the man himself first ceases to be a jungle and foul unwholesome desert thereby.

Thomas Carlyle, Scottish Philosopher (1844, p. 137)
Figure 1 Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle advocates work not because of its material rewards or the benefits to the economy but because it develops us as people. Work builds our skills and our mental wellbeing. However, many people with mental health problems can’t access employment opportunities. While being at work during periods of mental illness can be difficult for those with mental health problems, most people with these difficulties could take paid employment if it were not for numerous barriers in the workplace and the wider community (Centre for Mental Health, 2013).

Although employment can be stressful, difficult and exhausting, many people find it a great source of satisfaction too. The first activity in this course invites you to examine your own experience in order to develop an understanding of the rewards and troubling aspects of employment.

Activity 1 ‘… an endless significance lies in Work’

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Think about the work that you do. This might be paid employment, volunteer work or as a homemaker or a carer. In the text boxes below, make notes of:

  • some benefits of employment
  • some difficulties of employment.


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Employment is significant in terms of who we are, self-esteem, confidence and personal development. Work builds relationships and our skills set. The financial rewards are helpful too. Although employment plays a powerful role in our mental wellbeing, stress, difficulties and problems with co-workers can cause particular mental distress.

It is clear that work has both positive and negative impacts on our mental state, so perhaps Carlyle was a little optimistic when he said we are ‘perfected’ through work. What happens when work gets too much?


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