IMPACT@Work: Working With A Mental Illness

Earlier this week I spoke at the Mood Disorders Society of Canada’s Transitions to Community Program, which helps people facing a variety of issues transition into the workforce and their communities. A key focus of the talk was how to thrive with a mental illness at work, and be successful despite any barriers I may face.

It was important for me to touch on the fact that thriving didn’t mean an absence of symptoms or barriers, but rather, thriving meant that I was able to find ways to function with the symptoms, and reduce the barriers. In order for this to happen, I have to make significant efforts and put in extra work to achieve the same goals as my colleagues. Another crucial element is keeping lines of communication open with my managers and coworkers so that we can all be on the same page about what I am capable of, and what my limits are.

MDSC Ameera


IMPACT@Work: Employee Rights and Responsibilities

I’ve had countless conversations with people about their mental illness, and we often discuss the sticky situations surrounding disclosure, and managing mental illness at work. When I first started working, I didn’t understand how to navigate working with a mental illness, as well as disclosing it.

Here are the basics of what you need to know about your rights:

  1. You have the right to ask for accommodations. Mental Illness can fall under disability, and workplaces have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities so that you can perform your job adequately.  Depression is the leading cause of disability in Canada, which is very costly to employers, so it really is in their best interest as well as yours to come up with a plan of action. These accommodations can include more flexible hours, a schedule that allows working from home, or altering the nature of the work itself if need be.
  2. You have the right to disclosure. This means that it is entirely up to you to decide how much or how little you want to tell your employer about the nature of your condition or disability. You have an obligation to express what limitations you have or accommodations you may need, as well as if your condition will prohibit you from doing your job the way someone else might. You do NOT have to give them details about your condition, and they are not allowed to ask for details. If you’re unsure about if your boss is acting accordingly, or you feel they are asking too many questions, contact your HR representative and they will be able to facilitate the process.
  3. Discrimination because of your mental illness is illegal, and you can make claims against your employer if you feel you have been discriminated against because of your mental illness. For example, it is illegal if your employer knows that you have a mental illness and purposely does not promote you because of it. As a result, many people choose not to disclose their mental illness because they are afraid of the repercussions. Unfortunately, by not disclosing, many people are not granted the accommodations they need to succeed in their position.

I’ve often found that different things work for different people when it comes to dealing with their mental illness at work, though there are many common struggles. I’ve come up with some tips on what works for me, but this doesn’t mean that these will work for everyone.

  1. Decide when (and how much) to disclose ahead of time. This can also depend on the position. If i know that the employer I am speaking with in an interview is more likely to be accommodating, I will share a bit more about my situation. Generally, I will always say the word “disability” during the interview process, because if I am afraid of getting rejected, I would rather it be in the interview process than when I am already working. Some people will argue that they will wait until they are working because then the employer definitely has an obligation to accommodate (as opposed to in the interview when you are simply not selected). Either way, knowing what you may or may not what to say in advance can help you articulate your needs.
  2. Explain your limitations clearly, but have an action plan to ensure your work will be okay. For example, if you have panic attacks and choose to disclose that you need accommodation for them, know what your accommodation should be. Saying something like “I occasionally have panic attacks, and having a secluded, quiet place to go to when this happens is important for me to get back to work sooner rather than later.” This way, the employer knows exactly what you need, and can help you access resources that may help. Another example is if you know you will be going to see a therapist once a week, but you’ll need to be away from work, try an alternative like “On Wednesdays, I need an extended lunch hour for an appointment, but can ensure that my deliverables are still met by the end of the day, even if I come in early or stay late.” By showing you’ve already found a way to work around your needs, you’re showing initiative and an understanding of the organization’s needs.
  3. Give yourself permission to have ups and downs. I know  that sometimes I have bad days, and I may not be as chipper or friendly on those days, and I need to be okay with that. Everyone has off days, and mine are sometimes worse than my colleagues. I’m learning to give myself permission to take a sick day to care for my mental health, and I’m also learning that one off day doesn’t negate the other great days I’ve had where I’m fantastic at my job. So if I’m really anxious one day, and I leave at 4pm instead of 5pm, I do my best to not beat myself up over it, because I know that another day when I’m feeling great I will stay until 6pm. I also know that the quality of my work can depend on my mental state, and I don’t want to produce sub par work.
  4. Your mental health comes first. Your work comes second. I’m definitely guilty of forgetting that I am more important than my work, but it’s crucial to work to remember that you’re actually much more important than your work. You need to take care of yourself first (not to mention that your work will suffer anyways if you don’t), and making yourself a priority is in everyone’s best interest. Recognize if work is getting too stressful, or if your hours are getting too long, and find a way to work around it. Perhaps you always take a day off after your busy season to just rest and relax, or maybe you find yourself always working too late so you set dinner plans to ensure you get out at a decent time. Finding ways to make sure you’re taken care of and in a great mental state ensures you can be healthy and productive – a win-win for everyone!
  5. Own it! I’m proud of what I have overcome, and I’m learning to let go of the shame and stigma I’ve experienced because of my mental illness. My mental illness doesn’t make me any less of an employee, and it doesn’t make me any less of a performer. I know I can be successful even with the issues I’ve faced, so don’t allow yourself to preclude yourself from bigger opportunities. A person with a mental health concern can still be a stellar employee, and drive excellent results. Just because I need some accommodations, or more flexibility in certain areas doesn’t mean I can’t do a good job and be the best version of myself more often than now. Believe in yourself, fight for the rights you deserve, and keep moving forward (even if you sometimes go backwards).


Keep Surviving by Living.

IMPACT@Work: Andrea Martineau – Wellness Retail Associate/Laser Technician

What happens when you work in an industry build on creating wellness and providing consumers with greater happiness, comfort, and services that give them a better life? We think of hospitality workers as people that are always happy and smiling, ready to provide stellar customer service, but what happens when an employee is struggling to be that upbeat, happy person? I’m so excited to share Andrea Martineau’s perspective on what it’s like being on the other side of the service desk. It’s well thought out, brings up important issues surrounding cultural appropriation and calls for greater action from employers, employees, and consumers.


IMPACT@Work: Kinsey Powell – Commercial Account Manager

Kinsey Head ShotKinsey is an artist, activist, and businessperson living in Toronto. By focusing her business acumen in the arts and culture space, she has accelerated her career at a record-breaking pace at an impactful financial institution, while entrenching herself in an industry she loves and believes in. She holds three financial accreditations, a BCom from the Sauder School of Business (UBC), and currently sits on the Board of Directors of one of Toronto’s leading independent theatre companies. Her free time is spent cooking, at the gym, or dancing around her apartment. She is one of the most impressive, intelligent, and ambitious people I know, and I have been so lucky to witness her incredible journey over the past few years. I’m constantly inspired by what she does, and how she does it, and cannot wait to see her continue to change the world. 

IMPACT@Work: Supportive Coworkers

Managing dynamics with co-workers can be complicated enough without the added influence of a mental illness on one of you. Are you friends? Are you just people who spend most of your day together but don’t really know each other? What boundaries are in place as far as discussing your personal life? All these questions are difficult to answer right away, and the answers can often change over time, depending on how closely you work together. Add a mental health issue for one party (or both), and the dynamics are further complicated.  (more…)

IMPACT@Work: Power Dynamics and Corporate Conduct (Anonymous)

What happens when your workplace touts itself as being mental-health friendly, and emphasizes the importance of empowerment, open communication, support and diversity, but misses the mark in reality? What happens when you’re the only one to realize this, and you’re forced to address power dynamics and unfair practices while dealing with your own mental health concerns?

This post is written anonymously, because we unfortunately still live in a world where there are consequences to speaking out against organizational injustices, and the repercussions of speaking publicly are too costly. That does not make this story any less important or valid; in fact, the opposite is true. 


IMPACT@Work: Managers and Mental Health

When thinking about the changes that need to happen to make mental health a more acceptable topic at work, we often consider the high level changes that need to happen in company policies to make our workplaces more accepting. The idea is that the macrocosm of driving better corporate policies and laws will in turn have a trickle down effect and impact our day-to-day work lives. We are a long way from that happening, and there are great initiatives by larger mental health organizations spearheading this change. What I want to focus on today, is the reverse of this idea.


IMPACT@Work: Sidney S. Billings – Certified Protection Officer

Sidney and I connected through LinkedIn a few months ago over one commonality: we are both passionate about being a Mental Health Advocate, and will have the tough conversations needed to drive change. When I approached him about IMPACT@Work, he was eager and open to share, and genuinely wants to make a change in the world. His story is one that many people share, and it is a story that we need to collectively work to change so that no one else is forced to feel like they have to hide. 

My first experience with negative remarks towards my mental health issues was in 1988 while I was working in Ottawa.
While in hospital to discover exactly the diagnosis of what I had, it was determined at that time I suffered from ADHD. This devastated me. I was scared to tell my employer and when I finally did, the response was less then acceptable.
The management labeled me crazy. Some of my co-workers called me dumb, stupid, and I felt like an outcast. 


IMPACT@Work: Workplace Safety Hazards

During the first week of any job, by law, you are usually asked to review and acknowledge the common workplace safety hazards to ensure your safety at the workplace. For office jobs, this can be reviewing ergonomic sitting positions, or best practices to get up and move about to avoid neck/back strain. For jobs in warehouses or manufacturing facilities, it’s much more in depth about creating a safe workplace. What all of this training has in common is the fact that they pertain only to physical health. There are generally no considerations about potential risks to your mental health, or what can be done to manage and mitigate those risks.


IMPACT@Work: Kaylee Houde – Career Coach

Kaylee Houde was one of the first people I approached to be a part of IMPACT@Work. Having followed her professional journey after briefly meeting each other in university, I knew she had a great story to tell, and from the moment I brought the project up, she was enthusiastic and willing to contribute thoughtfully and honestly. 

Follow Kaylee here: WebsiteBlog | Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

Kaylee HoudeCareer Coach & HR Professional (1)

Site Life & Mental Health at Work

I know a lot of people who claim their work-life and home-life are completely separate. Others say that they are a completely different person at work than they are at home. This cognitive dissonance is not sustainable for me, and I believe the world of psychology would argue that it is not typically comfortable for anyone.

Photo by María Victoria Heredia Reyes on Unsplash

Today I am going to share a story about mental health in the workplace, and the difference between forcing myself through days that were not aligned with my values and purpose versus the alternative.

The Red Flag

I should have seen it coming. It was about a month after the corporation announced that I would be part of a divestment that the first red flag showed up. I felt pretty uncertain about my future. All I knew was that in a few months time the corporation that I was relatively fond of would no longer be where I showed up for work. I would report to a new boss, at a new company, with a new culture and performance structure, and I had limited choice in the matter. I could either accept the acquiring company’s offering, or go somewhere else. There was no in-between.

The red flag occurred as I was frantically building my network, out of this place of fear and uncertainty, desperately grasping at any connection I had and could find as a safety net. I had set up a meeting with a consulting company, an information interview, on a Friday afternoon. What happened, however, was totally out of my character. I did not even show up. For some reason I felt that I had not formally confirmed the date and time, and simply deleted the meeting from my calendar.


Photo by nick hidalgo on Unsplash

I was clearly in a bad place, because I live and breathe by my calendar. I never miss a meeting, and I am rarely late. This time, I totally blew it. The lady texted me to let me know she was on her way, and I called her back blundering about my mistake and clearly sounding like a tool. She proceeded to send me a condescending e-mail about waiting until I was ready and knowing what I wanted in life. It cut deep.

I felt this sinking and sickening feeling in my stomach, and I accepted my fate. I was going to go work for this company that I knew nothing about, and at least give it a shot, because I clearly was not ready to act as an adult about my emotions in the real world.

A Handful of Months Later

When I started with the new company, I realized the one thing I could control were my thoughts, actions, and responses. However, this too seemed to be gruelling at times. I was in a new environment, with new clients, and my team was in various states of disarray fixing employee data and just getting base-business up to par. I told myself I would give the position 6 months, and if I still was not happy, I would do something about it. Thus, I put a smile on my face (however, fake) and kept plugging along.

I was in around the 3.5 month mark when I was told I would be based at a remote location going forward. I had a month to set myself up for a fly-in fly-out (FIFO) schedule whereby I would work 4 days up at camp, and have 3 days off, indefinitely. I was not thrilled, but I decided to give it a go.

It was NOT good.

Less than 2 weeks into this rotational work and I was fatigued, anxious, and starting to show signs of depression. It did not help that my team was often not available, with closed door meetings or being spread all over the site. It did not help that the work I was doing seemed tedious and meaningless to me. It did not help that my clients were stressed out about the initiatives and policies that I had been tasked to roll-out. But, what was the kicker, was how all of these things combined with my FIFO lifestyle really impacted my wellbeing.

I would dread Monday mornings, my internal dialogue saying things like, “What is the point? Does life mean anything? Who am I? What am I to do? I am stuck. I am not worthy. I am not respected.” I felt scared and alone. 

It was all a bit more manageable before, when I could go home to my boyfriend and rant about my day over a cup of tea and some couch cuddles. It was manageable when I could snuggle up in my bed at night and get a decent sleep. It was manageable when I had energy to balance my work with the things I really liked to do evenings and weekends.


Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

With site life, and a FIFO work-schedule, it was a different experience:

  • I would get up at 3:30am (how ungodly?) every Monday morning to make it to the airport on time for my flight to site.
  • I would spend 6am-4pm as my formal working hours, 4 days per week, but as we all shared dinner in a big hall I was usually engaging with the same clients and/or colleagues well into the evening without reprieve.
  • I would get gawked at for being a decent looking female at the site, I could barely go for dinner without turning heads even in a baggy hoodie and my hair in a bun. I won’t even get into the gender inequality, that is a story unto itself!
  • I would be too tired from this schedule to do much of anything Friday-Sunday at home, as I would spend Friday running all the weekly errands and doing laundry and would sleep most of my weekends away in despair.

And so you have it, my job was officially bleeding into my wellbeing in a way I never thought possible. I was becoming unrecognizable, not interested in doing anything anymore, and was truly unhappy.

The Breaking Point

It was a Thursday evening, at 7pm my flight landed, and I was starving from my 10 hour day. I staggered to my partner’s truck where he picked me up and asked me what I wanted for dinner. We went to my favourite pho restaurant, and he tried to engage me in our usual conversations about the week. I was short tempered and barely responded coherently.

In the truck after our meal, he asked me what was wrong and pointed out that I was being, “Kinda a b*tch.” He was right, too. I was being awful to this man that I love and call my life partner.

I said, “I honestly don’t know, I don’t think I can do this anymore… the money just is not worth it.”


Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

Those were the words, “The money is not worth it anymore,” that stuck with me.

When Sunday night finally rolled around I had impending anxiety about my upcoming week at camp. I could barely breathe, and was shaking with despair. I was attempting to cry myself to sleep when my partner asked me what I was going to do. I said, “I am taking a mental health week to reflect and decide what is next for me.”

And so, that is exactly what I did. My doctor gave me a note excusing me from a week of work, I spent the week searching the job market and applying on 30+ jobs, I went to the gym and concluded that I would put in my notice. It was the only way forward that made any sense, and that I had full control of.

Never Looking Back

Oh, and since then, the anxiety has lifted and all those signs of depression seem like a distant memory. I still cannot believe how unhappy I was only a few months ago, and how different my life is now.

Everything has completely changed.

The part that worries me, however, is that a lot of my colleagues are still there – pushing through an environment they are not happy with, but to what end? Do they do it to get a year end bonus and some stock options that won’t make them any happier? I fear a lot of people put up with the fear and anxiety without knowing their options or what is out there. They put up with workplace abuse, because they do not know their own worth in the market. Or, when they go to that second round interview they do not ask the tough questions about culture and values.

Mental Health at Work

It is with this experience that I have realized work can play a significant role on one’s mental health. In fact, it could be for the better or worse, depending on where you work and their care for people.

The fact of the matter is, that after a certain income level incremental income is less and less associated with happiness. That is right, research shows that money does not buy happiness, especially after a certain base-level. And yet, we stay.


Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

I have a seriously demanding job today, run my coaching business part-time, and am also taking online classes. Yet, I am the happiest I have ever been. For me, it is because these items are aligned with my values as well as my purpose and personal growth aspirations. I am the busiest I have ever been, but I am learning things I care about and making an impact every day. I am on a journey that fits with who I am and what I care about, and it is so inspiring to wake up every day excited to do something!

My good friend Ameera Ladak says, “Your workplace health and happiness depends on three things…

(1) Your workplace culture and policies
(2) Your manager and how they implement them
(3) The nature of your work”

I agree, these three pieces of the puzzle have a huge impact on your workplace happiness, and when all three are out of whack or misaligned with your values, well, happiness is fleeting at best.


Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

I encourage you to do a values check the next time you’re having a bad time at work, and if you do not know yet what your values are, let’s define them together. That is why I now devote my life to career coaching: to help others wake up with purpose and happiness and to reach their full potential every day. I do this to ensure workplace happiness is a priority, so that action can be taken. I do this to ensure your Sunday evenings and Monday mornings are just as mentally healthy as every other day in your life.

Let’s work together.

“Be the change” – Mahatma Gandhi

Keep on sippin’

Kaylee Houde
Millennial Tea