How 8 weeks of work experience can improve your mental health and life
November 11, 2017 by Stuart Rawlins
This article refers to a time in 2010 and 2011 when I didn’t work for a ten month period whilst I dealt with a number of mental health conditions.
It also goes through how 8 weeks of ‘work experience‘ changed my life and improved my mental health.
During the ten months of not working I watched our bank balance getting lower and lower, believe me this is a good motivator to get back to work even when you are struggling with a number of mental health conditions.
I can remember thinking how can the meager WorkCover benefits I am receiving go down even further? I asked the consultant on the other end of the phone, how are we supposed to survive on this amount of money?
It was then I was reminded that WorkCover like most other benefits of its type are a mere stop-gap measure. Designed to sustain you until you can find your way back into the world of employment.
I can remember asking myself questions such as ‘What would I do, Who would want to take on a burnt out ex-detective who was still recovering from a number of mental health conditions?‘.
I must admit sitting at home for ten months had served its purpose. I had come to grips with and finally accepted that I was suffering from a number of mental health conditions. I also got myself to a position where I sought and found the right type of treatment that had started to get me going in the right direction back to better health and some form of normality.
So I made the call to my WorkCover case worker and told her something that I don’t think she had heard in quite a while. I told her I felt like I could go back to work, I didn’t know what type of work but I felt I was strong enough mentally to get back into something.
Inside I felt and knew I just needed it. I needed that feeling of getting up with a purpose everyday.
With a referral to an external company to see an Occupational Therapist who specialised in getting people like me back into the workforce I was one step closer to hopefully getting my life back on track.
On my first visit I mustered all of my courage and simply told him, I knew I couldn’t be a Police Officer anymore, those days were gone. But I felt it was time for me to get back to work and once again contribute to society and provide for my family.
That first visit was as scary as hell, putting myself out there for the first time since being off work, but I can tell you it was well worth it.
After getting professional medical treatment and assistance during my time away from the working world this activity was the next major step in my journey back to some type of normality.
I can still remember doing a barrage of questionnaires about my likes, dislikes, skills and qualifications to try to narrow down what I could and couldn’t do.
The consultant advised that I would hopefully get some ‘Host Employment‘ somewhere for 6 – 8 weeks and that if I showed that I had the capacity and ability to work that my benefits would be ceased at the end of that time.
This was irrespective of me attaining any paid work from the host employer at the end of that period.
WOW this certainly challenged me mentally once again.
Six to eight weeks of work experience so-to-speak and then irrespective of the outcome my benefits would be stopped. Talk about a motivator to find the right place and work my guts out hoping that they would give me a job at the end of it, or at least I could gain some new skills to help me get a job somewhere else.
I had been applying for jobs with no success for the previous few months whilst I was un-well. This was when I realised that I had just been throwing my same resume and covering letter at every job. Hoping the companies and recruiters would see that although I hadn’t addressed what they wanted for their candidate, I was still the right person for the job.
Take from me……….This approach does not work!
So off we went! The consultant started shopping my resume around to different companies. The carrot for the employer was that they did not have to pay me as I would still be receiving my benefits from WorkCover during this time.
After a few inquiries my lucky break came, a company who had taken a person previously on host employment agreed to meet with the consultant and myself to discuss some options. I was so excited and scared at the same time as I knew that if I started there that my benefits would be stopped in 6 – 8 weeks.
It was like I was entering the workforce for the very first time…. again!
After a quick meeting the company representative agreed to take me on and advised me that I would do some special projects for him and simply help out in the safety department.
This meeting triggered some not-so-nice thoughts inside me as well, but I knew I had to work through them, I just had to. Thoughts like what would I say when people asked why I was there, what would the manager tell other people I was doing, what if I wasn’t up to it?
This is when I used some coping mechanisms taught to me by my treating psychologist. Things like:
- Positive Psychology (focusing on the things I could do rather than what I could not)
- Increasing my amount of exercise, intense exercise
- Talking to my wife and psychologist about my journey ahead and how to get through it
- Chunking it all down into small pieces (Taking it one day at a time, one task at a time, one little task)
- Having ‘My story’ sorted and in place so I could answer any of those uncomfortable questions if asked
I didn’t know it at the time but getting back into the workforce even in a work-experience context was satisfying some of the 6 x basic needs in life.
You see it is said that we all have 6 x basic needs in life. These 6 x needs are what make us tick and are made up of the below factors:
- Love & Connection
Even though it was my previous work that caused my mental health conditions, it was work that I was actually craving.
I was missing that sense of certainty that comes with a steady paying job, knowing when and what I was getting paid so we could plan for the future, or at least the next power bill!
I was also missing the sense of significance that comes with getting up everyday and going to work. The inner feeling that also comes with being a valued part of a team and getting that sense of meaning and purpose was something that I was craving. I wanted to belong!
You see although I needed time out from the working world to heal I realised that I also needed work once again as a part of my recovery process. I needed work to close that loop that would see me re-enter society and feel like I had a purpose in life again (Contribution).
How did it all go?
Well after overcoming my fears of what people would think and how I would answer, it actually went very well. I stuck to my plan and once again felt like I was part of society, like I was contributing to something.
It also provided me with an answer to that dreadful question we get asked when we bump into friends or acquaintances at the plaza or BBQ.
You know the one that starts with ‘So what are you doing these days?‘.
It allowed me answer that question with my own slight variance of ‘I am just doing some contract work for …….’
That eight weeks made me feel half human again, I got up with a purpose every day for the first time in ten months. I made every day count and gave my all.
The end result was that I was offered a full time job at the end of that eight weeks and kissed my life of living on WorkCover benefits goodbye.
It was a major turning point in my recovery and journey back to better health. It also taught me a number of things that I now value very much, things like:
What you do for work does not define who you are in life, how you treat others does. Remember kindness costs nothing!
The importance of keeping an open mind when it comes to opportunities, because where one door closes another will often open
Have a red hot GO, even if you are crapping yourself and full of self-doubt. Just break it all down to little steps and keep moving forward, keep getting up out of that bed every day. You will surprise yourself with what you are capable of
Never underestimate the value of work of any kind, paid or free. The sense and feeling of belonging, certainty and contribution is more important than most realise
Everybody goes through struggles in life, some more than others but we all do. What matters is your resilience and tenacity to keep moving in a forward direction. The tough times won’t last forever and you will get through them
If you are already in work remember you can improve your mental health by giving back. By doing volunteer or community work and giving back to those in need, can give you a great sense of well being and achievement.
If you are unemployed liaise with Centrelink, Employment Agencies or simply get your resume together and get out there and walk into some businesses and ask to do some free work-experience. Go-on give it a crack!
Remember never underestimate the importance of work, paid or free and what it can do for your health, the community and your inner-self.
Healthy Mind Healthy Future
Mental Health & Employment | Educator |Speaker |Coach