Employment and mental health

Mental health — the positive and negative effects of employment and unemployment

The positive effects on mental health from employment are the same positive effects that come from any purpose in life. I don’t think there are any direct effects on mental health from unemployment, either.  But before I try to justify those claims, some background.

From a small child, everyone expected me to be employed — probably in academia, or maybe industry

So when I left school and wanted a job before university it surprised me how difficult it was to get a job.  Any job.  Office work, warehouse work, shop work, factory work; I was not selected for three months and twenty-odd interviews until a quango (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation) gave me some very basic admin work.  The quango, in hindsight, was run by some definitely autism-leaning people and so saw a kindred spirit in me.

Future unemployment was the same — lots of interviews, but never picked  In those first eleven years after school I had six “proper” jobs: three holiday jobs with the quango, one summer in a packing factory, and two “DHSS” jobs — where the Job Centre sends you to an interview for a job they selected.  Such jobs are often with “employers of last resort” — companies that are avoided by people who can pick and choose as they are not good places to work, even if you aren’t suffering from mental ill-health.  And so, without the mental fortitude to grind out a couple of years and then finding a better job (like the majority of their employees) I failed my probation and went without references.

Employers of last resort are the exact opposite of what people need.  Management should be about getting the best from the people under you, encouraging them and helping them grow.  So much management, especially in the last resort, is about punishing people for failing to achieve impossible targets, including berating people for not achieving their Continuous Professional Development targets — that’s making the company look bad!  Why did you fail the external course?  That cost us a lot of money, that course!

Unemployment isn’t bad for your mental health, but people’s expectation that you should be doing “something useful” with your life, that’s the problem

By the time I turned thirty, things were bleak — I’d amassed just over two years’ experience, and I’d had to be inventive filling the gaps in my CV: I had done various crafts and sold the odd piece or picture, so each sale did duty for a couple of years of “self-employment”.  References were either personal or from ten years earlier.  It was another five years before I got a diagnosis of Autism and was given sheltered employment.

After a few years of unemployment, and years before my diagnosis, I realised accepting myself as someone who is literally unable to work like other people helped enormously, as did deciding that the confrontational atmosphere from the various government