Experiences of psychosis

Work and education

Onset of psychosis disrupting work and education
Many people had their education or working lives disrupted by developing mental health problems. People described their experiences at school, which were very mixed. Stress caused by preparing for exams seemed to lead to a deterioration in people’s mental health; for others it was just the first time they had noticed something wasn’t quite right (see also Onset of mental distress’).
Whilst some people did well at school and didn’t experience many problems, several people spoke about being bullied at school or having unrecognised learning difficulties that caused them problems (see also ‘Views about causes and traumatic experiences’ and ‘Childhood and life before diagnosis’). Many people first developed more noticeable mental health difficulties whilst they were at sixth form or college (ages 16-18) or whilst at university. However many also felt that university was a happy time when they felt ‘freer’ or ‘more like themselves’. Some people found that their behaviour spiralled out of control without close family noticing.
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Some people didn’t work after finishing school as they didn’t feel well enough or there weren’t the jobs available. However, many other people had worked full-time before becoming unwell. Whilst some people felt that the stress of their jobs contributed to their feeling unwell, others felt unable to work because of the side-effects of medication such as sedation.
Changing career
Most people we talked to could work in the long run, despite being affected by severe mental distress. However the type of work that people did often changed after an episode of psychosis. For some people getting back to work felt important to their recovery. However, work was not always possible - or even desirable - for some people (see also ‘Recovery’). Several of the people we spoke to decided to work or volunteer in the mental health field in some way in order to help others.
Many people we spoke to now worked with service user/advocacy organisations such as ‘Rethink’ or the Highland User Group (HUG) and got a lot out of either doing paid work or volunteering. Ron now runs a consultancy company ‘Working to Recovery’ that trains people in mental health recovery.
Some people found that the job they had before they became unwell was too stressful or not rewarding enough. For instance, a few people had been in the army and said the mental stress of this kind of work was particularly difficult for them. Naveed said that his boss worked him very hard, knowing that he wanted to save money so his wife could join him from Pakistan. Cat hoped that there wouldn’t be increasing pressure for her to go back to work as she felt she couldn’t manage it.
Nevertheless, when people felt unable to work this sometimes contributed to negative feelings about their self-worth, and many did not want to depend on state benefits. Often they were signed off by a doctor when they were diagnosed, and for a few people this felt like the doctor was expressing pessimism about their prospects of recovery. Some people said they tried to go back to work and their normal routine ‘too early’ and became unwell again.
People who felt unable to do paid or voluntary work talked about the importance of therapeutic activities such as education, art, sculpture, or gardening to increase their well-being.
Gaining new skills and confidence
Some people who had left school without any qualifications, or who hadn’t been to university the first time around, often wanted to do a degree course or take part in further study.
However, doing further education wasn’t for everyone. Gary wanted to do an Open University degree but his psychiatrist didn’t think he was well enough to attend college, and another tried to do a degree when he felt quite ‘high’ and dropped out after a few weeks. Simon had done various different courses including gardening, sculpture, poetry and creative writing, and got a lot out of them.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.


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