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Work and mental health
Work and mental health

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2 Employment and mental health problems

Nick and Louis both have mental health problems and could not continue with full-time employment. They both attend the mental health charity Restore, an organisation that supports mental health recovery. For many, recovery includes work of some kind with an ultimate goal of finding paid employment. This goal may be very challenging to achieve and some people may require a lot of support. You will learn about this support later but first you need to get to know Nick and Louis.

Activity 2 ‘… and I sorta lost everything really.’

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Watch the video of Nick and Louis. Identify:

  • what benefits Nick and Louis gain from working
  • what factors contributed to Nick and Louis becoming unwell.
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Video 1 Nick and Louis
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What benefits do Nick and Louis gain from working?

For Louis, working was extremely beneficial. It not only brought him the material benefits of a ‘renovated house by the sea’ but also was important to his identity and self-esteem. He loved being ‘a real foodie’ and gained considerable self-esteem from doing a job well.

In Nick’s case, he gained the satisfaction of using his musical skills in a job which gave others a lot of pleasure. He had the opportunity to socialise with people. For many, being a working musician is a valued social position.

What factors contributed to Nick and Louis becoming unwell?

You need to pay attention to both what Nick and Louis say and what they imply. Louis’ lifestyle as a chef – long hours, little time off, the need for perfectionism – undermined his mental health. For Nick the uncertainties of living as a jazz musician ‘overloaded his nervous system’ and he became unwell.

For both, ‘keeping going’ piled on pressure, which made things worse. This is where the Centre for Mental Health’s (2013) claim that most people with mental health problems can work becomes quite provocative. You might ask, and only Nick and Louis would be able to answer, what kind of work situation would accommodate their mental health needs? What kind of support do they need? You will come back to these questions later.

Nick and Louis’ mental health problems are not simply a reflection of their employment circumstances. For example, a difficult relationship was a significant contributor to Nick’s decline. Employment is only one factor influencing their experience of mental health problems. However, employment is often seen as a significant part of mental health recovery.