Skip to content
Subscriber Only

The Toll of Holding a Job While Coping With Mental Health Issues

Three stories from the workplace.

China McCarney, vice president at Jaeger Sports in Los Angeles.

China McCarney, vice president at Jaeger Sports in Los Angeles.

Photographer: John Francis Peters for Bloomberg Businessweek

Absenteeism is one of the most noticeable symptoms of people who deal with mental health problems while holding down a job. But there’s also presenteeism, when people show up for work yet are unable to perform their best because of how they’re feeling. And the need to take breaks from working can lead to résumés with lots of jobs with short tenures. We spoke to a number of people about their experiences managing their mental health in the workplace. They had jobs that offered varying degrees of flexibility and at companies both large and small. Consistently they talked about the fear of disclosure. Underemployment and gaps in their résumés were common themes. Some who chose to open up to their superiors say getting a positive response made it easier for them to manage their mental health. Here are accounts of people who are trying to establish successful careers while living with mental health conditions in America.

Kevin’s résumé has holes. There were high points: After completing a master’s in communications, he landed positions at one of the country’s biggest insurance companies and one of the top accounting firms, working his way up to managing 12 colleagues. But he never felt comfortable telling a boss about his depression. During particularly bad bouts, he found himself on performance improvement plans or, worse, fired. He attempted suicide twice and took prolonged breaks between jobs to recover.