Recently I wasn’t shortlisted for an award, that I didn’t even expect to be nominated for. It left me wondering if other people with Borderline Personality Disorder and anxiety avoided opportunities due to their fear of rejection, particularly in the employment sector. On Facebook & Twitter I appealed for volunteers to answer a survey. I’m fortunate to work for a third sector organisation which also has has projects within mental health illnesses so for me I have additional support and have been able to be honest and open about my condition from the outset. I was also sent along with colleagues to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) 2 day course, where we learnt about how to support colleagues in our work environment. But not everyone is as lucky and most people feel they are unable to work at all, or if they do work cannot be honest about their condition in the same way they would about a physical condition such as diabetes or asthma. As someone who also has asthma, I never worried about declaring asthma in my interview or on forms but was unsure whether or not I should disclose my mental health issues.
Since finding out that it is now a recognised disability, if you reach all the basic criteria, inline with Equality Act 2010 you are entitled to an interview if you state a disability, which mental health illness is.
3 out of those I interviewed with unemployed & more than half were unemployed or in a part-time role or role they were not happy in. The heartbreaking truth was that they no longer put themselves forward for jobs even when they were unhappy in their current role or wanting to work, but weren’t currently working. They didn’t had little hope for a future and were waiting on therapy. They felt abandoned with their diagnosis as a lifelong illness with no cure and many were still waiting for treatment. I wanted to know whether others with my condition felt the same need to hide in the shadows or needed similar reassurances to me to try something new.
I found there were differences, some who did still try, but also so many similarities, all surrounding those who would prefer not to put themselves into situations where they might be rejected. Emma 28, (name changed) explained that she thinks anything competitive is a bad idea, although she can’t help being drawn into the situations. She also stated she always competed impulsively or in a random decision, and “when I haul it triggers the fact I can’t do anything right”. Failing cause her to “cry, self-harm, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, detach grom reality & at worst, consider suicide”. She also stated she would pretend she was in a dramatic 50’s movie to detach from reality. What I found fascinating was I shared Emmas view that some mental health illnesses should be described as “terminal mental illnesses”, some for which they would never recover or get better. She feels that although she isn’t currently suicidal, it’s inevitable.
Anne 27, (name changed) is currently unemployed having left her last job due to mental health issues. She is looking for a job but is wary of disclosing her condition, “I always think I’ll be rejected anyway do it’s not a surprise. I hate failure though and will always blame myself even if it was out of my control”.
Some have found ways to deal with it, Lisa 23 who is also unemployed (name changed) has been using the DBT skill of self-soothing, “I would run s lovely bubble bath or paint my nails it anything that is kind for your body”. This has taken Lisa 3 years of intensive DBT, schema focused therapy & CBT & CAT therapy which she has found each one helpful in its own way.
It seems that those who haven’t had treatment or therapy were the least keen to put them selves in situations that could allow rejection with some responding, “God no. I can’t handle rejection since being a small child” and yet treatment is still so hard to find, so they are left in limbo on a postcode lottery of some services.
Amy a 22 year old student (name changed) said she avoiduded competitive situations at all costs. For her an abusive partner had “knocked any confidence out of me” & can no longer keep interest for 6 months. She also hit the nail on the head for how I often feel when it comes to preparing for rejection. “I worry constantly about it happening, even when everything indicates that I won’t fail. And even then, when I do fail I am not prepared, becayse deep down I never honestly expected to fail”. I can relate to this entirely.
With MHFA taking more people through awareness & training in the workplace, it isn’t making it necessarily any easier for people to explain or discuss during recruitment than it is to mention a physical disability or a condition more openly known such as diabetes.
‘Now I am working, it feels like no one is interested in me. They think I am well. I have to hide my illness from my employer and when I feel down I have no one to turn to. It is hard to see my GP because I have to take time off work and then questions will be asked. I feel like I am trapped in a vicious circle. I need to work to try to keep well, but can’t access the services to help me keep well.’ – how poor that people are scared to work in fear they will lose treatment & support”, a case study used by Mind.
It seems that things are no different in the US. According to U.S. Census data, nearly 57 million Americans have some type of disability. The US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy reports that the 2011 unemployment rate for adults with disabilities was 15 percent, 72 percent higher than the 8.7 percent unemployment rate for adults without disabilities. Furthermore, more than 13 million 16- to 64-year-olds reported difficulty finding a job or remaining employed because of a health condition. (Monster)
Research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that narcissists score much higher than others in job interviews, and it’s because they’re comfortable with self-promoting. Since narcissists typically think they’re fantastic, the interviewer may think so, too. (Guardian)
I also read “Offering a clammy palm to shake the hiring manager’s hand is the greatest fear of many a job candidate. And for good reason – sweating suggests you’re nervous and can undermine the image of cool confidence you’re trying to project. One public relations recruiter tells US News that she recommends asking for a cold cup of water while you’re waiting to be called in for your interview. That way, you’ll lower your body temperature and stop some of the sweating. (Sweaty)”. I for one know this is the main symptom of my anxiety & I will use this tip moving forward.
Surrey Psychologist, Mandy Kloppers said, “Individuals with BPD/EUPD tend to have low self esteem and often fear abandonment and rejection. As a result they often avoid trying things that might bring out their fears. They also tend to see the world in a rigid black and white manner – they see themselves as a failure or a success, loveable or unloveable and rarely see anything in-between. This heigtens their anxiety and enhances a feeling of not being safe in the world.” Mandy not only treats people with BPD but is a fellow blogger.
In conclusion most of those I spoke to were either unemployed or studying, or in a job they wanted to leave but were too anxious about the process, interview, declaring of their condition, fear of rejection & finally fear of success & then change.
5 thoughts on “The heartbreak of trying & failing – why mental health prevents us from having the job we want”
Can totally relate; people have offered to help me get my children’s musicals published but all I ever think is ‘I’ll get found out, people will say it’s all a load of rubbish and the rejection will be unbearable’. My psychiatrist said to me yesterday that I was my own worst enemy. Brilliant post.
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Thank you Sian. I really am my own worst enemy too x
This was sad to read 😦
Love and light
This is a powe ful article about mental health and work. It’s very eye opening. A well written and honest article. Xxx
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Thank you so much ruth xx