By Mike Jacquart
I thought one of the best comments Marina London made during the writing of my book, Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness, pertained to her experiences seeing troubled employees as a licensed mental health professional for major hospital and corporate clients.
“Nine times out of ten, their unhappiness was due to a very poor fit between the employee’s personality and the work environment,” wrote London. “I found myself repeatedly recommending those employees look for a more suitable position.”
“Bingo!” I thought. Whether one wants to call it corporate culture, work environment, work lifestyle, or my term, “fit,” it’s not just what you do for a living, but also where you work that can play a strong role in success. I have to believe that when one suffers from a mental health challenge, this “fit” becomes even more crucial.
This statement stems from personal experience, having lost a number of jobs during my 35-year career as a reporter, writer, and editor. I’m convinced that a poor fit between my personality and a fast-paced work environment-which my depression and anxiety issues exacerbated-played a significant role in my termination. Others would agree.
“To be hyper focused and engaged all the time in a company culture, while struggling with depression is debilitating work,” wrote licensed mental health professional Maureen Hotchner in Climbing out of Darkness.
Indeed, it is. Every workplace has interruptions, but they seemed to be endless at one particular company, a firm that was actually a pleasant place to work. Everyone seemed so happy and cheerful. The problem was it was a little too exuberant for me. Seemingly multitudes of coworkers would stop by our cubicle area each day. Our cubicles were in close proximity, and since I had concentration issues, the continual disturbances were difficult to cope with. Many times, I felt like saying to one of my colleagues,
“Don’t you have any work to do? You can have some of mine!” But no one else felt they were being too
talkative, so I just forced a smile instead.
As Marina wrote, “when you are depressed, everything is an effort. That includes socializing.” (As I learned years later, social isolation is a trait of depressive disorder.) Imagine yourself in a race, day in, day out, and you are continually struggling to keep up. That’s what depression is like. You feel like you’re running in place, while everyone else is sprinting past you.
There were some slower, less stressful and quieter work environments at this firm, but when I talked to HR about working elsewhere, I was told the company was not in the habit of providing “lateral transfers.” In other words, the new job had to be a promotion, not one that involved similar work.
“Nobody talks to young people about the lifestyle that accompanies a particular job,” London wrote. Someone should. While there were aspects of my job that were a good fit, such as writing and reporting, (which I liked and was good at,) there were other problems, like excessive chatter and a fast pace that often worsened my anxiety issues and were not good for my wellbeing.
Finally, several years after being let go by this employer, I accepted a position at a company that fit like a well-tailored suit. The pace was less hectic, and coworkers were less talkative, even considerate. It wasn’t unusual for a colleague to ask me, “Am I being too loud for you, Mike?” Wow! I was impressed. I worked there for 14 years, much longer than any other job I ever had.
I’m not suggesting that a job has to be perfect, because no position is. I am saying that when it comes to selecting a work environment, the more you know who you are, the better choices you can make. This is an important consideration in a rapidly changing world. And it is ESPECIALLY crucial when you have mental health challenges.
Mental health for men is a new series of blog posts and podcasts developed and distributed by Fresh Hope for Mental Health http://freshhope.us. Portions are excerpted from Mike’s book, “Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness.” For more information, contact Mike at