Schizophrenia in the workplace

Can I Continue Working with Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a type of mental disorder which affects a person’s thought process and responsiveness. Common symptoms experienced by those with schizophrenia include:

  • Strange delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Auditory (sound) hallucinations
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Disorganized speaking
  • Social dysfunction

There are a number of psychotropic medications used to treat schizophrenia and many who suffer from the condition are able to lead relatively normal lives while undergoing treatment. However, many do not respond to medical treatment. Some need to be hospitalized for their safety and the safety of those around them.

Those with schizophrenia often suffer from other neurological or psychiatric conditions. The most common are anxiety disorders and depression. Substance abuse is also high among those with schizophrenia. Often, this is an attempt to self-medicate. People with schizophrenia also have an increased risk of a wide range of health problems. They also have a high suicide rate.

How Schizophrenia Affects Your Physical Capacity for Work

If uncontrolled, the hallucinogenic symptoms of schizophrenia can make any kind of physical work impractical. This is especially true for those who have visual and auditory hallucinations. If schizophrenia is not adequately controlled, being in a work environment which requires physical work of any kind can be dangerous to the person suffering from the disorder and others in the workplace.

How Schizophrenia Affects Your Mental Capacity for Work

Unless schizophrenia is adequately controlled by medication, it can severely affect your mental capacity for work. Besides the obvious problems which hallucinations can cause at the workplace, most people with schizophrenia struggle with social situations. Schizophrenia is often associated with incoherence, disorganized behavior, illogical thinking, illogical speech and flat line behaviors. Any of these can make it impossible to function in a work environment.

In addition, some people with schizophrenia experience symptoms like catatonia, which make it completely impossible to work.

Schizophrenia and Applying for Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, Section 12.03 lists the conditions under which you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits with schizophrenia. In order to qualify for disability benefits, your condition must be diagnosed by a medical or mental health care professional. To meet the requirements listed in the Blue Book, you must either have two years’ worth of documentation showing that your ability to work is significantly limited by your condition and that you have symptoms consistent with schizophrenia, such as extended decompression episodes. The requirement can be lowered to one year if your condition requires you to live in a controlled environment.

If you don’t have two years’ worth of medical or psychiatric documentation, the SSA will look at which symptoms you are experiencing, how often you experience them, and the effects they have on your ability to perform daily tasks and function in a social environment. In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, they must be able to conclude based on the evidence you present in your claim that you cannot reasonably be expected to perform any kind of gainful activity.

It is very important that you continue to receive and comply with mental health treatment while you are applying for Social Security disability benefits. One of the main things the SSA will look at in determining whether to grant you benefits is whether you have complied with treatment, and what (if any) effect the treatments have had on you.

If you have schizophrenia, you should strongly consider having a Social Security lawyer or other professional representative handle your claim. They will know better than anyone else how to best collect and present the evidence that your condition makes it unreasonable for you to be expected to work.

Schizophrenia and the Workplace

Of the roughly 2 million Americans with schizophrenia, it is estimated that only 10 to 27 percent are in the workforce. But a 2008 survey of those living with schizophrenia found that 76 percent of respondents said they thought having a job would improve their lives. For those people, significant barriers stand in the way.

Schizophrenia and Work: Is It Possible?

Whether a person with schizophrenia can work depends upon the severity of the illness and the nature of the symptoms. Studies have found that positive symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, are less of a barrier to employment than negative symptoms and cognitive deficits. Negative symptoms are the absence, or reduced level, of mental processes that should occur normally, such as the ability to make plans, enjoy pleasurable activities, and interact with other people socially. Cognitive deficits are problems with planning and organizing, remembering things, and paying attention.

Frank Baron, who lives with schizophrenia, has not returned to regular employment since his diagnosis, although he is active. “In my case, medications stop the delusions but they do not manage the cognitive deficits,” he says. Baron says the cognitive issues prevent him from working: “Before, I was a civil engineer, but now I don’t have the concentration.” Baron serves on the Institutional Review Board for the Los Angeles County Mental Health Commission and does public speaking on mental illness issues.

Schizophrenia and Work: Which Jobs Are Best?

Schizophrenia does not predispose people to a specific type of work. The right job for a person with schizophrenia depends upon the severity of the illness and on a person’s skills and interests. A few people with schizophrenia have been very successful professionally: Fred Frese earned his doctorate in psychology after a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and Elyn Saks earned a law degree after her diagnosis and is a professor of law at the University of Southern California.

But Baron notes, “Like they say on TV, ‘results not typical.’ ” Most people with schizophrenia work in entry-level and part-time positions, and only about 30 percent of working people with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia have been promoted from entry-level positions.

Schizophrenia and Work: Health Benefits

Health insurance and other benefits are an important issue for people with schizophrenia to consider when choosing a job, and even when deciding how many hours to work. While increasing one’s income seems appealing, the reality for people with schizophrenia is a bit more complicated. The entry-level positions that people with schizophrenia most often obtain rarely include benefits.

People who rely on Medicaid may have to limit paid work hours so as not to jeopardize their health benefits. A benefits counselor can help sort out the regulations that surround Medicaid and Social Security benefits, and help people make the right decision about how many hours they can work.

Schizophrenia and Work: Other Challenges and Solutions

A person with schizophrenia faces several challenges when seeking employment. It can be difficult to explain gaps in a resume to a potential employer without revealing your mental illness status, and discrimination against people with mental illness still exists.

On an individual level, Baron says that supported employment programs help some people with their quest for meaningful work. Supported employment programs help people with psychiatric disabilities prepare for, find, and maintain competitive employment.

This is especially important because schizophrenia tends to appear around young adulthood just as people are entering the workforce; people with schizophrenia may not have much work or job-search experience before diagnosis. Supported employment programs help with job searches and pre-employment training, and continue to provide services to help people with schizophrenia succeed in their jobs.

Social Security Disability Benefits for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious, psychotic mental disorder that may make it difficult to think logically, interact socially in a normal way, control behavior, and distinguish between reality and delusions/hallucinations. Schizophrenia is a “spectrum” disorder, meaning that the types and severity of symptoms may vary greatly between individuals, especially taking into account different responses to treatment. Although some people with schizophrenia respond well enough to medications to perform some type of work, there are many others who cannot.

While schizophrenia is a common psychotic disorder seen by Social Security, there are similar disorders involving different degrees of psychosis that may also quality for disability benefits, such as:

  • schizotypal (personality) disorder
  • delusional disorder
  • schizophreniform disorder
  • schizoaffective disorder
  • substance/medication-induced psychotic disorder, and
  • psychotic disorder due to another medical condition.

As with all mental impairments, Social Security is more interested in what functional limitations a disability applicant has, after trying medical treatment, than what specific psychotic diagnosis the applicant has been given.

Can You Get Disability for Schizophrenia?

A simple diagnosis of schizophrenia is not enough to get disability benefits; an individual suffering from schizophrenia must be able to prove that schizophrenic symptoms prevent him or her from working, despite taking anti-psychotic medication.

The disability criteria for schizophrenia are a reflection of the complexity of the medical condition itself. There are no biological tests that can be conducted to establish schizophrenia, but brain imaging shows distinctive changes and may soon be accurate enough to use. For now, diagnosis is still currently by mental status examination.

Schizophrenia Disability Listing

To help identify serious medical conditions, Social Security has a Listing of Impairments that list the criteria needed for each condition to qualify for disability. Schizophrenia is listed in the listing of impairments under heading 12.03, Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders.

Diagnostic Criteria

In order to qualify for disability benefits based on schizophrenia, an individual must be able to demonstrate that he or she suffers from one of the following, on either a constant or intermittent basis:

  • delusions or hallucinations
  • disorganized thinking (such as incoherent or illogical thoughts) revealed in use of disorganized speech (not merely having a doctor assume disorganized thinking), or
  • grossly disorganized behavior or catatonia (rigid muscles, unresponsiveness, or inappropriate actions).

Note that emotional isolation and withdrawal from social interaction is no longer part of the listing for schizophrenia or psychotic disorders.

Limitations

Once a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia is made by a psychologist or psychiatrist under the above criteria, Social Security then determines if the disorder qualifies under the listing by either of the two methods below.

In the first method, there must be an extreme limitation in at least one of the following areas, or a “marked” limitation in at least two of the following areas:

  • understanding, remembering, or using information (planning, ability to understand instructions, learning new things, applying new knowledge to tasks)
  • interacting with others (using socially appropriate behaviors)
  • concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace in performing tasks (ability to complete tasks), and/or
  • adapting to change and managing oneself (knowing what is acceptable work performance, maintaining personal hygiene and attire appropriate to a work setting, being aware of normal hazards and taking appropriate precautions).

Note that Social Security defines “marked” as less than extreme, but worse than moderate. Marked and extreme are matters of professional judgment to be made by a Social Security psychiatrist or psychologist reviewing the medical evidence.

In the second method, the psychotic disorder must be medically documented as serious and persistent over a period of at least two years and the applicant must be receiving medical treatment and mental health therapy or be living in a highly structured setting that diminishes the symptoms and signs of the mental disorder. The person must also have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in their environment or to demands that are not already part of their daily life.

This second method recognizes that there are some people who don’t satisfy the listing because they live in highly protected and supervised situations that makes their functional abilities appear better than would be the case in real-life situations where the stress and demands on them would be greater.

Medical-Vocational Allowance for Psychotic Disorders

Those who have schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder but are unable to meet the criteria of Social Security’s listing may still be able to get SSDI/SSI benefits on the basis of a “medical-vocational allowance.” There are applicants who suffer from schizophrenia who are not incoherent or completely disassociated from reality, but they still find themselves unable to hold down a job. While many people who are schizophrenic exhibit stereotypical symptoms such as hearing voices, thinking everyone is out to get them (paranoia), or catatonia, there are also those who are simply unable to make normal associations, participate in normal social interaction, and maintain an organized thought pattern.

The medical-vocational allowance allows those who suffer from a schizophrenic condition that doesn’t meet the requirements of the listing to get benefits if they can prove that their impairment is severe and ongoing (expected to last for a period of not less than twelve months) and that it prevents the person from doing even unskilled work. It often takes a qualified disability attorney to make this argument, particularly when it comes to appearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) at a disability hearing.

Although treatment responses vary, it is impossible for even the best treatment to restore a person with schizophrenia to complete normality. All people with this disorder should be considered to have at least some significant limitations regarding the ability to work, and so all applicants with schizophrenia have some chance for a medical-vocational allowance. However, Social Security does find some applicants with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders to have the ability to do simple unskilled work.

What Are the Chances of Getting Benefits?

At first glance, it might appear that the criteria for schizophrenia are so broad it would be easy to meet them, but this is not the case. Medical records are often specific as to an individual’s symptoms and the resulting limitations, but they seldom describe exactly how a condition prevents one from working, a concept that is key to being awarded disability benefits. Even disability examiners and judges who are well schooled in the criteria that must be met to qualify for SSDI/SSI must refer to their manuals when it comes to conditions like schizophrenia—the definition is so broad as to be open to quite a bit of individual interpretation. Interpreting an applicant’s medical records in a way that will persuade a disability examiner or judge that one is unable to work can be difficult.

Although some schizophrenics get turned down after their initial disability application, the overall allowance rate is over 80% for individuals with schizophrenia. Those who are able to manage the process of appealing and wait for a hearing date are usually successful in getting disability benefits.

Schizophrenics Should Get a Lawyer’s Help

Disability applicants who have complex mental conditions like schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders should consider hiring an experienced disability attorney to represent them. Not only is schizophrenia a complicated disorder, but those who suffer from it are at a great disadvantage when they choose to represent themselves, particularly in light of the limitations this condition places on concentration, memory, and logical thinking. A disability lawyer can take over getting necessary medical records and doctors’ opinions and can manage the hearing process for the applicant.

Myth / Most people with schizophrenia can’t work.
Fact / People with schizophrenia can work—even if they have symptoms.
Several studies have shown that people with major mental illnesses fare better if they work. The ability to hold a job is not necessarily related to the severity of the person’s illness. British and American studies have shown that people with schizophrenia are more likely to stay out of hospital if they are employed. While many people with schizophrenia are able to work successfully in competitive fulltime employment, for others part-time or volunteer work is best.
Work is a vital part of rehabilitation. It increases self esteem, reconnects the ill individual to the community, and provides a meaningful way to fill time.
Myth / Jail is an appropriate place for people with schizophrenia.
Fact / Jails and prisons are frequently used to warehouse the mentally ill and get them off the streets. In Ontario, Canada, 15-20% of inmates have a psychiatric illness and 5-7% are considered to be seriously mentally ill. The mentally ill most often end up in prison because of vagrancy offenses, substance abuse, or minor property crimes. They frequently fail to show up for court appearances, leading to further charges and jailtime.
Jails and prisons typically have very inadequate psychiatric services. Mentally ill prisoners receive little or no treatment. Moreover, they are subjected to a “double punishment.” If they are housed with the general prison population, their abnormal behavior leads to beatings and abuse by other prisoners. If they are segregated for their protection, they lose all social contact and the isolation often worsens their symptoms.
Coming Face to Face With Schizophrenia at School, Work and in Relationships / Today, many people diagnosed with schizophrenia are in school, at work, and are parents and spouses. The winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Mathematics, John Nash, has lived with schizophrenia for thirty years. By providing a supportive environment and proper medication, treatment and encouragement, we can enable people who experience schizophrenia to be productive members of our community.
However, negative portrayals of people who experience schizophrenia in television, movies and other media outlets, continue to perpetuate the stigma and further activates discrimination.
As one woman said, “When you go into the hospital for a broken leg, people send flowers or they visit you. If you go to the hospital for a mental illness, people don’t send flowers. They don’t visit.”
Open the Doors / Many patients report that consistent support from parents, friends, medical professionals or teachers was a major factor in their rehabilitation.
Here are a few quotes from people who have experienced discrimination:

“One night the police pulled me over for expired plates on my car. It was dark. The lights were flashing. I was terrified and shaking. When the policeman approached my car, I was so scared I couldn’t speak. He accused me of being uncooperative. I managed to say that I had schizophrenia. ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ he said.”
Elizabeth Anderson
Teacher
Vocalist
Married for five years
Diagnosed with schizophrenia three years ago
“I was pregnant when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. My friends’ parents asked: ‘When is the abortion going to take place?’”
Michele Miserelli
Mother
Diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1988
Public speaker for the Schizophrenia Society of Canada

Today there are voices of hope.

“I had just received my college degree in English when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia eighteen years ago. For a long time, I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. But with my new medication, I can read again. I play the viola and love the Bach cello suites.”
Elizabeth MacDonell
Bachelor’s degree in English literature
Plays viola with a local orchestra
Has lived with schizophrenia for 18 years

What can you do?

  1. Be aware of the words you use. “Crazy”, “loony”, “schizo” are hurtful words.
  2. Help make others aware of how our words and attitudes hurt. Don’t laugh along with cruel jokes. Let other know ignorance hurts.
  3. Stand by those who may be suffering early symptoms of mental illness.
  4. Get involved. Call your local Schizophrenia Support group. If there is not one available in your community or if you would like more information on the Worldwide Program to Fight Stigma and Discrimination, contact the World Psychiatric Association—by phone, fax or e-mail—to find out about national programs in your country.

_______________________

Muhammad is one of the estimated 2 million American adults who suffer from schizophrenia. The mental illness can cause delusions, hallucinations, and social withdrawal, and can make it difficult for people to be coherent and to appropriately sort, interpret, and respond to incoming sensations. In 2006, Fuller Torrey, an American psychiatrist and schizophrenia researcher, argued that, “when the social history of our era is written, the plight of persons with schizophrenia will be recorded as having been a national scandal.” Surveys suggest that the majority of Americans with schizophrenia want to be employed, but aren’t: Currently around 85 percent are unemployed, while research shows that as many as 70 percent would prefer to work.

“The truth is that the majority of people with schizophrenia are willing and able to thrive in the workplace if they find a job that fits their interests, works with their strengths and talents, and offers them some accommodations,” says Sita Diehl, the director of state policy and advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Currently, only 10 to 15 percent of American adults with schizophrenia are in the workforce, a number that includes many part-time jobs. Yet Diehl says that NAMI’s research suggests that the majority of Americans with schizophrenia believe not only that they are capable of working, but that a job would improve their lives. These numbers suggest that, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is profoundly difficult for people with schizophrenia to find jobs.

For Muhammad, a job could be soothing: Being around others hushed the voices he heard, and having a purpose kept his anxiety at bay. But some of his symptoms could get triggered when he was on duty and isolated from others, and finding a job that fit his specific needs turned out to be difficult. After Muhammad was diagnosed, a social worker at the Veteran Administration’s Community Care Center set him up with an apartment and found him a compensated work-therapy job in the mailroom of the VA, where he sorted mail a few hours a day.

“He told me I had to give him a phone call whenever things got rough and promised me that he’d come over straight away,” said Muhammad. A daily routine, along with the dedication of this unexpected supporter and the access he now had to medication and treatment through his job, helped Muhammad recover. After a few months though, the VA moved him to a full-time job assembling small metal parts in one of its manufacturing operations—a job that paid $10 an hour, but didn’t suit him.

Eventually, the VA asked him to work as a security guard outside. Unlike his previous security-guard position at the hospital, however, this position called for monitoring terrain on his own. Though Muhammad started the new job in great spirits, it took less than seven weeks before he was back in the hospital. “I was outside all by myself,” he explained, “so I started to see all these shadows walking towards me. It made me sick again.”

Can I Work With Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder which causes you to have difficulty telling the difference between delusion and reality. It can be caused by a number of contributing factors; ranging from genetic factors, home environment, and various types of infections. In most cases, schizophrenia symptoms first show when a person in their adolescence, though it may also manifest in older or younger people.

Common symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions, hallucinations, an apparent absence of emotions (called flat effect), negative emotions, loss of ability to feel pain, repetitive behaviors, child like behaviors, disordered thinking and withdrawal from the environment. The severity of symptoms and the ability to control them with anti-psychotic medication and behavioral therapy varies widely from schizophrenic to the next.

Obviously, when symptoms of schizophrenia are severe, it can cause a great deal of difficulty adapting to any kind of work environment. Generally speaking, even those with milder symptoms of schizophrenia need a very supportive environment and some special considerations in order to maintain gainful employment. Those who have severe or unmanaged symptoms will often find it impossible to keep employment, and may even be in need of assisted living services.

Unfortunately, Schizophrenia is not always easy to diagnose. Diagnosing schizophrenia is often a matter or ruling out other possibilities which could be causing the disconnection between reality and delusion. Those who are diagnosed with schizophrenia should be careful to follow all of their doctor’s and mental health professionals’ prescriptions.

When applying for Social Security Disability benefits based on schizophrenia, make sure that all of your symptoms are thoroughly documented along with the effects they have on your ability to perform work. You should also make sure to note all other effects the symptoms of schizophrenia have on your daily activities.

Schizophrenia and Your Ability to Perform Physical Work

Schizophrenia does not directly stop you from performing physical work, at least not in the sense that it hinders you from pushing, lifting, pulling, or otherwise performing physical tasks. Because of the unpredictable nature of schizophrenia, however, and the difficulty those who live with the condition have in distinguishing reality from hallucinations or other delusions, many physical type jobs can be dangerous.

Your residual ability to perform physical work will largely be tied to the degree to which your schizophrenia hinders you from being in public without assistance. Those who require a greater degree of supervision to be among the general population safely will be less likely to be able to keep gainful employment. While some schizophrenics whose symptoms are well managed may be able to find work, there are others whose disability makes it impossible to perform any kind of meaningful work, and these are eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

Schizophrenia and Your Ability to Perform Sedentary Work

Sedentary work often involves a greater amount of concentration than physical labor. Often, sedentary jobs require you to sit in one place for extended periods of time, and to interact with other people at work and the general public. Other sedentary jobs require being able to concentrate on using your hands for assembling or repairing things with small parts.

Often, for those with schizophrenia, performing sedentary work is more difficult than performing physical work. Of course, different people with different schizophrenia symptoms may be able to do either kind of work, or neither. If you are unable to work due to your schizophrenia, it’s generally a good idea to contract a Social Security Disability lawyer to help you with your Social Security Disability claim. When choosing who you would like to represent you, look for a Social Security Disability attorney with experience dealing with clients with mental disorders.

I Have Schizophrenia & A Great Job — But For How Long?

I am also unique, because my all coworkers know I have schizophrenia. Considering I don’t know any of the other people affected by a mental illness at my job, it is likely there are a lot of mental health secrets being kept from management. Such is not the case with me, though. My boss believes that making connections in an effort to build a circle of trust is what makes a great team. When he found out I was an author, he organized an impromptu conference-room book signing in an effort to build those connections. I was given the opportunity to talk about what made me want to write books. When I was asked about my interest in schizophrenia as it relates to one of my novels, Paper Souls, I told them the whole truth. I wasn’t going to lie about it. “It’s me,” I said. “I have schizophrenia.” The reaction is always the same. The room goes silent and people look at you as if you just said you killed somebody. But then they remember they are not supposed to stigmatize people with mental illness and their expressions soften. They nod and someone gives you a hug. “You are an amazing person,” somebody says. “I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through that.” You would think that in the weeks, months, and years that follow an admission like that, people would treat you differently. They would give you special treatment and go out of their way to be kind to you, because you have a disability. Or maybe, they will fear you. But that’s not what happened, at least not with me. People go on with their lives. They don’t have schizophrenia, so what do they care — as long as you get your work done. People like me prefer it that way, I think. We’ve never wanted any kind of special treatment. We just want to be treated like everyone else. We just want to be treated like we didn’t actually kill somebody, because we didn’t. That’s not to say life isn’t difficult for those of us lucky enough to escape the stigma in the corporate world (at least for a little while). I know that stigma is still very alive in many professional environments, because I have heard the stories from other advocates. I have been lucky enough not to face that at work. Sitting at a desk surrounded by white walls while being expected to be normal is no easy task. It is quiet. Scary, sometimes. It is the perfect setting for a horror movie, really. Sitting in your gray cubicle with no sound except eager fingers banging away on keyboard after keyboard until a bloody monster with 300 teeth pops out at you and tells you to kill yourself — because if you don’t, he will kill you. It’s only one person with schizophrenia’s interpretation of the dopamine demon, but every person with schizophrenia gets it. A pressurized environment, packed tight with corporate stress, is a recipe for disaster in a person with schizophrenia’s mind. I live it every day. There are things I’ve tried to do to make life easier on myself. I’ve attempted to take the dose of meds I’m supposed to take to live a somewhat normal life, but the medication they give people with schizophrenia is not designed to allow a person to wake up at 6 a.m. It is not designed to make a person work a specific shift. We need breaks. We need naps. The effects of the medication are similar to those of marijuana. It makes you tired and slower on the draw than the average person. Our brains aren’t slow; our reflexes are. Disorganized speech is a very real thing for those people with schizophrenia, medicated or not. We are paranoid about whether or not people notice. They know, we think. They know I hear voices.

Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder in the Workplace

Many high-functioning people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder have jobs and schizophrenia in the workplace is a real issue. Jobs that they get up and go to and where they work alongside other people. You might work alongside a person with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and not even know it. Don’t worry, we don’t bite (Are People With Mental Illness More Violent?).

Working with Schizophrenia Requires the Right Job

Things were getting tough at my job over the past few weeks. A lot of people were out sick, and I filled in some extra shifts. But it became clearer and clearer to me that I needed some “me” time (Good Self-Care Is Vital To Mental Health Recovery). So, I talked to one of my mentors on the job. I was originally planning to talk to her right before my shift, but I was so nervous I called her a few hours before I had to go in (I work in the evenings). I told her how nervous I was about tackling additional shifts, and I confided that I have a mental illness. I wasn’t slacking off on the job or in declining extra shifts. I just could only work the days I was scheduled to right now due to my health. She totally understood. And when I came into work that day, she greeted me with a big hug and cookies and told me I should never be afraid to tell her anything because she was my friend.

My job is at a church office and I’ve worked there for more than five years. I don’t recommend walking into a job you’re new at and announcing that you have schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. I do recommend working in an understanding and compassionate environment. On the evening shift, I have clear and routine responsibilities, and my husband comes in and sits with me during my shifts after he gets home from work. Much of the job entails answering phone calls, greeting people who come in and making rounds to ensure that everything is in order by the end of the evening.

I have worked at jobs in the past that were just too stressful for me. Working in retail at a busy book store was so demanding that I heard voices all the time — so often that I had to make up a story about having hypoglycemia and when the voices hit, I blamed them on sugar crashes (Have You Ever Lied About Having A Mental Illness?). I didn’t know anyone I thought I could talk to about my mental illness. I left the job after a few months.

If You Have Schizophrenia, Any Job Is Going to Be Stressful

So if my job is relatively stress-free, why can’t I take extra shifts? I don’t really know why. I know it has to do with me and my schizoaffective disorder and it has to do with a host of anxieties. Will I get to work on time? Will I say something wrong to someone? Will I make a mistake in calendar entries, filing and leaving a message? None of these fears are based in anything that actually happens at the office. Again, I don’t know why I feel that stressed out about something that isn’t that stressful. All I can say is that every job has its stressors. No job is completely stress-free, but my husband and I can really use the extra money my work brings in. And the structure of going to a job is so helpful.

The way my higher-up reacted to my phone call reminded me of why I’ve been able to work at the church office for over five years. People there know that just because you can’t see my illness doesn’t mean it’s not real. They also trust me. And that’s one of the best rewards of all.

Photo by Elizabeth Caudy.

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