Mental health and work


The role of work in supporting good mental health

By Simon Hart from charity Re-Instate

“Not everyone wants to be employed, but almost everyone wants to work”, that is to be engaged in some kind of valued activity that uses their skills and facilitates social inclusion” Commissioning Guide for Vocational Services, Department of Health

Do you take work for granted?  

On a cold January morning have you ever rolled over and thought “I wish I didn’t have to work!”

Few of us really mean that, because work, in all its forms, helps to define who we are, and how we relate to the rest of society.     

However, for many adults who have lived with mental illness or severe learning disabilities, work can seem a distant goal. The development of work can be complex and challenging, but for many, working can act as a springboard to self-improvement, and as such, should be encouraged and facilitated whenever possible.

What has work ever done for us?

Everyone is different, and work can never be the panacea for good.  For someone struggling to make ends meet on a small budget and with a family, being told to work in a low paid job may simply increase an already stressful situation, and impact on mental wellbeing.

For most, however, work offers many positives: -

  • Builds confidence
  • Develops self-esteem and self worth
  • Helps to remove the stigma of mental illness and stops someone being pigeonholed as a “patient” 
  • Encourages social cohesion and integration
  • Develops work skills
  • Gives economic independence and earning potential
  • Creates a sense of belonging, a sense that an individual is part of a team, an organisation and society, not excluded.

For adults living with mental health problems, work can be key to personal development and long-term wellbeing.

Getting started

The idea of work supporting and promoting good mental health sounds great.  The problem though, is how to take those first steps in the job market.  The barriers can be huge: 

  • Prejudice – The general understanding of mental health problems is poor, and what you don’t understand is best avoided- isn’t it?
  • Employer expectations and empathy 
  • Peer pressure or “fitting in”
  • The knock-on effect to home life and existing social  groups 
  • Work skills and the demands of the job
  • Possible financial implications of work 
  • Concern about returning medical issues
  • State of our economy

It should come as no surprise that the longer someone is out of work, the more difficult it is to enter, or re-enter the job market.

A helping hand

Can anyone succeed without a helping hand? Of course.

Will everyone succeed without a helping hand?  No, and for those who struggle with mental health problems and learning difficulties, there are organisations like Re-Instate that can help.

Open, paid employment should be the goal, as long as the open employment doesn’t simply isolate the individual more.  Organisations like ours give a supportive and protective environment, for people to develop at their own pace, and without the pressure open employment can bring.  For some, maximising potential through work can take years, and that’s fine, because the fringe benefits are so positive.

Work enables individuals to expect more.  It’s about opening doors, giving choice through opportunity.  For many who have suffered with mental health issues, seizing the opportunity to develop through work is a powerful thing, and something that should be supported and encouraged wherever possible.

So roll over and have five more minutes of quality duvet time, but don’t forget the positive effect work can have, and how much work can be used as a positive tool for some of the most vulnerable in society.


Re-Instate is a charity operating a sheltered workshop for adults with mental health problems and learning disabilities.  Based in North Kent, Re-Instate offers that first step into work, encouraging that sense of belonging we all hold so dear. 

The work carried out is real and commercially won from local firms.  Abilities amongst the “trainees” vary, and tasks are allocated accordingly, with the aim of ensuring that development is carried out at a pace to suit the individual. It is not paid work, but it is a supported pathway that:

  • Grows Confidence
  • Develops self-esteem
  • An individual is seen as more than a patient – Start to change the script for someone who may have been receiving support for many years.   
  • Instils hope 
  • Assisting recovery – A gentle introduction, or re-introduction, into work
  • Respect 
  • Improving life chances
  • Giving choice

Tony, one of the many people Re-Instate has helped told Learning Disability Today: “This is my first real job and I appreciate it a lot. I feel better about myself because I'm just like everyone else,"

Re-Instate is Tony’s first taste of work, after 30 years of living in various institutions.  He has paranoid schizophrenia, learning difficulties and challenging behaviour.

To learn more about Re-Instate please visit their website

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