Your Career and it’s Relevance to Mental Health

Last week, I started a brand new job as a Career Advisor at a local university.  As a little project to take on, I decided I would try to write a weekly blog entry in an ongoing series called “Dave’s Diary,” with the focus being on a mix of career tips, career development theory, mental health/well-being, and current events.

For a few reasons, I thought the content would fit in here really well (the original content is being published here).  For one, it’s nice for me to have articles I’ve written in the same place.  Also, it will mean a guaranteed influx of content on the site at least weekly for a few months, which is great because there’s been very little activity here recently.

This first entry was inspired by the fact that last Friday was World Suicide Prevention Day.  In the future the posts will be on the same day on both sites.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

You might be thinking to yourself, “What could it possibly take for someone to take their own life? I’m glad that’s something most people don’t have to go through.”

However, statistics show that many more people than you might think are affected in some way by suicide. It accounts for almost a quarter of all deaths among 15 to 24 year olds, and 16% of deaths among 16 to 44 year olds. It cuts a swath across every imaginable demographic: gender, age, ethnicity, social status, income level, geography, etc. It changes families, social circles, schools, and workplaces on crushing, permanent levels.

But as profound a loss that any suicide is, it is most often the end result of a much larger issue in general: declining mental health.

Career advisors routinely help students with questions they have related to the workplace or the growth of their career. Be it in fine-tuning a student’s skills in the mechanics of job-finding (job searches, resumes, cover letters, interviews) or in helping to explore an answer to the question: “What’s next? What can I do with a degree in philosophy, anyway?” we don’t often come face to face with mental health issues.

But here’s the thing. The link between your career and your mental health is inexorable. A career is often a significant source of meaning, gratification, challenge, and reward. In the affluence of western society, our jobs (and yes, although it doesn’t pay very well, being a student is indeed a job) are the one thing we spend the most time doing: forty plus hours a week, usually. Imagine if that time was spent in an environment where you couldn’t stand the people you were with, or the tasks you had to perform, or there was a major imbalance between the organization’s philosophy and your own. How long would you be able to keep it up? What would keep you from getting depressed, or anxious, or being totally physically exhausted from stress?

It’s estimated that leaves of absence for mental health reasons cost the Canadian economy $51 billion annually in lost productivity. This is far more than it would cost to set up reasonable means with which to help prevent and adequately treat these mental health concerns. Sadly, the massive amount of stigma associated with mental illness makes it difficult to move forward. Hopefully, today is a reminder to people that these issues can’t be swept under the carpet. They’re everywhere, and they’re preventable. Without a doubt, a significant factor in your own mental health is your career, from the day to day stuff to the bigger picture.

So, as you think about your career, keep in mind that it’s not just about making money. It’s also about being healthy, growing, and creating lasting personal meaning. And if you have no idea what direction you’re headed?

Perfect. Keep an open mind. Try some new things. Learn. See a career counsellor or drop by a career services centre and talk to someone. You just don’t know what you don’t know.