As a child growing up in India, I often heard the adage “Work is Worship” but could not fully comprehend the significance of work in a person’s life. As an adult who has overcome debilitating mental illness to pursue a meaningful career as a mental health advocate, I have come to experience the healing power of work.
In traveling the world and talking to people affected by mental health issues, I have learned that one of the things they aspire for the most is meaningful employment. Unfortunately, many of them do not find the opportunities and supports they need to realize their potential and become contributing members of our global community.
In this blog post, I would like to share inspiring stories of people who have defied their diagnoses and discovered meaningful careers and highlight an organization that is promoting recovery through work. I hope these stories will inspire us all to empower people struggling with mental health issues to find gainful employment. Because, as Sigmund Freud says, “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”
Successful and Schizophrenic
By Elyn R. Saks
THIRTY years ago, I was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. My prognosis was “grave”: I would never live independently, hold a job, find a loving partner, get married. My home would be a board-and-care facility, my days spent watching TV in a day room with other people debilitated by mental illness. I would work at menial jobs when my symptoms were quiet. Following my last psychiatric hospitalization at the age of 28, I was encouraged by a doctor to work as a cashier making change. If I could handle that, I was told, we would reassess my ability to hold a more demanding position, perhaps even something full-time.
Then I made a decision. I would write the narrative of my life. Today I am a chaired professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. I have an adjunct appointment in the department of psychiatry at the medical school of the University of California, San Diego, and am on the faculty of the New Center for Psychoanalysis. The MacArthur Foundation gave me a genius grant.
Two years ago, Dustin Garron tried to end his life for the seventh time. Today, the 18-year-old student at Ottawa’s Carleton University focuses on helping other teens who may be contemplating suicide.
“Working in the field of mental health has helped my recovery so much,” says Garron, who founded the Mental Health Project for Youth in 2011, just days after being released from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). “I can help because I understand how stressful today’s world is for teenagers. They have to face such a wide range of stressors at school, with siblings and family conflicts, in relationships and over body image or memories
A decade of recovery through work
Inspired by their struggle advocating for their daughter, Elliott and Dianne Steele opened Vincent House in 2003. Now the nonprofit organization celebrates 10 years as a restorative community, using the idea of “recovery through work” to help those who struggle with mental illness to realize their potential and to move beyond the boundaries that grew around them from the stigma of their disease
Wishing you wellness,
Gayathri Ramprasad, MBA, CPS