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Ask HN: What to do if I’m about to lose my job to mental health issues
52 points by throwawaydev00 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments
I’ve had a history of mental health issues (diagnosed with depression and ADD).

I left my last job in part to symptoms of depression caused by stress.

I assumed that removing the stress would allow me to recover, but a new set of stressors caused me to quickly “regress” back into a deep depression.

While my work has been commended, my attendance and work relations have suffered, and I was put on a performance improvement plan.

I only recently started to seek treatment again, and the performance evaluation period is almost up. I believe it is likely I will lose my job.

What steps do I take from here? My small amount of savings were mostly wiped out between moving to the new job and a few mishaps since then.

I want to take a break and work on my mental health, but I honestly can’t afford it. Even a week or two of joblessness would financially ruin me currently.

I know I waited too long to do something. By the time I had mustered up the courage to do something, it was too late. The constant anxiety from the thought of possibly losing my job and possibly worse is only making things worse.

It feels foolish to almost “dump” my problem here but I feel crippled and don’t know what to do. Does anyone have suggestions?

It's very brave of you to come here. Give yourself some serious credit for that. And also, it's time to stop beating yourself up for not seeking help sooner. You've survived this long and now you're seeking help. I'm proud of you because surviving takes so much strength and seeking help takes serious courage.

It's hard to give you situational advice because you're genuinely in a tough position. Normally, I'd tell you to go see a doctor and try to begin some CBT. Unfortunately, I don't know if that could work fast enough to make a major difference for you.

I don't know where you live or what kinds of social benefits are available to you, but have you looked into any kind of short term disability program?? Alternately, have you looked into what would happen if a doctor ordered you onto stress leave and you were fired? I know in some places, that would be considered a reason to claim unemployment benefits.

If none of that helps, I'm afraid that this could get worse before it gets better. If things get bad, it might get pretty tempting to think about hurting yourself. If you get to that point, please don't. Instead, please go to an emergency room and let the people there protect you.

Finally, I've struggled in my life. If you ever need someone to talk to who has been through some shit, my email is in my profile.

Good luck, bud and be safe. I know it's hard, but I promise that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you'll eventually walk out of this hell. I'm sorry you're going through this.


While I agree with everything else you say, that seems much too specific without knowing the condition or the person, and without being a professional yourself (unless you are one).

I've read about research saying that the success of mental health therapy depends on 'the singer not the song'; the therapist and especially their rapport with the person they are helping are what matters, not so much the particular technique used. A good therapist, from what I understand, will have several techniques to choose from and will apply what works best in that situation.

There is a literal ton of research that indicates in acute situations, CBT is a very efficient way to gain coping mechanisms. It may take some time (or other methods) to solve underlying issues, but CBT can act as a temporary crutch. CBT is also interesting because this individual is experiencing some financial problems. One of the dirty little secrets of being near financial ruin is that you end up relying upon freely available/socialized forms of help. In the vast, vast majority of cases, these types of resources offer a very limited tool chest, and CBT is the single tool they use most.

It's also important to know that you won't get the chance to work with twenty different therapists to find one you get on with. In most jurisdictions, you wait three months to get access to someone. And if that person doesn't work out, it's too bad, but there just aren't the resources.

The lack of resources means that the people you work with won't have the time to try different things. They have to rely upon methods that provide the greatest probability of stabilizing the issue in the shortest amount of time.

But most importantly, it's about seeking a type of therapy. There's a shitty fucked up thing about depression and anxiety that keeps people away from therapy.

I'm not a professional; I would strongly caution against offering or following non-professional advice in a situation like this one. IME, even professionals - experts in their field - will not offer advice based on such limited information.

If for some reason I can't imagine I offered such advice, I would do so in as judiciously, measured, and precise a way as possible. Hyperbole is, IMHO, not an indicator carefully considered ideas but of emotion.

While I agree with your sentiment, is there any harm in going for cognitive behavioral therapy? I haven't read any commenter say that it should be the only arrow in the quiver, but seeking help seems like a logical first step.

That said, I 100% agree. I want to get my mental health advice from mental health professionals who fully understand my situation, not random people on the internet who have a paragraph on my situation.

> is there any harm in going for cognitive behavioral therapy?

I don't know; I'm not a professional.

As an analogy, imagine a non-technical small business owner asked a psychologist, 'is there any harm in starting this critical, time-sensitive project in Java?'? Clearly the psychologist should say, 'I don't know; I have no expertise in software development.' But you could imagine the psychologist saying, not personally knowing of a difference between Java and other languages, or knowing someone whose Java project went well or reading something about how great Java is, saying, 'sure, what's the harm?'

The professional's answer to the hypothetical Java question is, yes, there very well may be harm. At least there's a good chance of opportunity cost because you may have to start over. But you know how these things go, especially on time-sensitive projects - once started in Java, probably they will be stuck with that technical debt and the compromises of the wrong choice for the life of the software. And this is a critical project. Letting a professional take even a quick look at your project beforehand could save you a lot of unnecessary pain.

I understand that you are not a professional, but the cognitive behavioral therapist is.

I would liken this to going to a Java developer with your business problem and seeing if this would help. There is a chance that they might say "I can't help with this problem but approach XYZ might be worth exploring." Sure, this might not be an optimal approach to architecting your application, but it is at least a step in the right direction.

Furthermore psychologists are licensed, highly regulated, and must commit to an oath of doing no harm.

I think one of the most important things for someone who is having mental is that they reach out for help. I think any advice which slows that down is dangerous.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for your support everyone.

I’m far from out of the woods yet, without all the support and suggestions shown here I don’t want to imagine how much worse off I’d be today.

First thing this morning I spoke to someone at my work about my isssues. It was difficult to work up the courage to speak, but I kept all of the support you had all given me to heart and knew what I had to do. I was open and told them exactly what was going on. I mentioned the fact I was seeking treatment and was up front about the exact issues I’ve had.

I had resigned to the fact I had lost the job, but was offered an extension on my performance improvement plan.

Despite the trouble I caused for myself by not coming forth to them about this earlier, I do want to be there, and their willingness to accommodate me solidified my resolve to solve my issues without leaving. I left my last job over these same issues and if anything, things got worse. This time I’m determined to fight

I’ll continue seeking treatment with a therapist and a psychiatrist. And while I was honest to both to myself and my employer about the fact that I can’t expect an overnight improvement, I feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Yesterday I truly felt like I was suffocating. I can at least breath again, and I owe that all to each and every one of you.

I came late, but my advice was going to be to talk to those who were involved in the performance plan and let them know what was going on. A good employer doesn't want to lose a good employee if they can help it. Looks like you have a good employer based on this update.

Thank you for the update, and serious kudos for doing what you did. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to talk to someone at work, but you did it. Thinking of you and sending you good thoughts as you get through this.

Great job, keep facing your fears and it will only become easier and easier.

“A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” - Tim Ferriss

Assuming US law: If you work for a company "professional" enough to start a performance improvement plan instead of just firing you, then they are likely to move slowly and carefully in anything that they know involves a disability. This includes mental and psychiatric disabilities. (I'm using the word "disability" here because that's the word the law uses.) That employment law is very complicated, and a wrong move could create big liability for them.

I'd strongly suggest that you disclose to them that you are seeking treatment regarding a mental health issue, and maybe say it's major depression and/or ADD. I probably wouldn't disclose more without talking to a lawyer (or at least, a forum with more people trained in employment law than here). I would state that I believed I could do the job--you say your work has been commended--but may require some accommodation. You can search the phrase "reasonable accommodation", and see examples of how other people have resolved similar situations.

If you do this, then you'll probably buy yourself at least a couple months. As other commenters note, you may be eligible for paid leave. Even better, you may be able to negotiate a modified job description that works both for you and for your employer long-term. You may also be able to use this time to switch to a different role, inside or outside your present employer.

There's some risk in disclosing that you're dealing with a mental health issue, since there's a stigma associated with it. The company is supposed to keep your information private, but sometimes they don't. There's probably worse stigma associated with just being generically unreliable, though. So I think it's in your interest to disclose.

Please don't feel reluctant to use all the tools that employment law creates to help you in this circumstance. (Of course, also remember that the company is complying because they have to, not necessarily because they're as warm and fuzzy as the HR brochures might suggest.) I hope you find yourself in a better situation very soon, and I think that you will.

I want to echo this. Please talk to your manager and/or HR about what's going on. If they know you have a "disability" (again, this is the legal term, though it's not my personal favorite) and are seeking treatment, they are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations and most likely cannot fire you.

Depending on the company, there may be a number of resources they can help you access, from paid or unpaid leave, a new work arrangement or reduced hours, referrals to programs, etc... This is not an uncommon issue, and you're probably not the first to come forward with this kind of thing.

Personally, I know how difficult this can be, and how it feels to not see a path forward. But there are ways to work through this, and things can get better. You might be surprised how helpful opening up about this at work can be.

Sending you good thoughts and support. You're not alone.

I'd definitely talk to a lawyer. You don't need to engage them for an employment dispute; they can merely advise you on what to do and just as importantly, what not to do. One consultation can prevent a lot of unnecessary difficulties and pain.

Have you gotten any help while you were not attending work? Are you taking medication or seeing a therapist? I think you can try to be honest with your manager and explain what you are going through ask them for an extension and that you will work to meet deadlines and also seek help. Worrying and being scared won't solve your problems so you need to take action and try so salvage your role. I suffer from depression and there are times where i would've love nothing more than to stay home and not deal with work, but at the end of the day I know i have to be responsible for my condition and seek help. I got medication and therapy and i am functional nothing is perfect but i still have a job and have to manage. You can do it , just talk to your boss or HR.

If you have a diagnosed medical condition, FMLA is an option. Depending on which state you are in, you will be able to go on short term disability and not go broke. Talk to your health care provider and your FMLA provider.

Kudos for talking about this to strangers.

Ask your Dr for help and documentation. If asked by management why you didn't talk about it sooner perhaps stating you were trying hard to overcome it might help. It seems you honestly were. I'm in the U.S. and you can't be fired for a disability easily. They will want to cover themselves in case of a lawsuit, probably. This means you probably still have time to start working with your company to help you get back on track in a way that keeps your stress down and still makes you a productive employee for the company.

Just out of curiosity, have you considered an "emotional support dog"? I am seeing more people who have a dog with them at work for stress and support. I personally think that petting an animal lowers stress, at least for me.

I wish you the best. Mental health issues are tough. Kudos again for tackling being in a tough position.

If you are in short term disability our long term .. then employer may not be able to let you go... But once you come back then they can... And if you are referring from mental health issues and seeking help ... It may work to buy some time...

I assume you have a tech background; if you are near any hospitals, especially those owned by large healthcare organizations, they would be the perfect place to try and get a job at.

After a 3 month probation period, you would get Extremely affordable healthcare, boatloads of PTO, and the organization I work for will even go out of their way to accommodate employees who have a medical condition.

Keep in mind that ADD can also be an ADA protected condition.

Is there anything you can do to reduce living expenses? (Cancel unneeded subscriptions, eat out less, etc.) Whatever happens with your job, slowing down your "cash burn" can only make your financial situation better.

I'm right there with you. I wish I had the energy to even write more

Have you opened up to friends or family? When I was struggling with depression and anxiety, one of the best things was calling or hanging out with a friend. Therapists are also great but the key is that when you're speaking to someone else, they can help break you out of negative feedback loops. Depression and anxiety usually occur from what they call a dark spiral, the thoughts tend to spiral down, and to you they make sense, but when you talk to someone about it, they're like woah how did you make that jump? Good friends are a great way to bring you back, foster positive energy, and a great break.

You've recognized you need help. It'll be hard but you've already taken the hardest step.

A quick bandaid that you can try right now is meditation. My favorite meditation app is Headspace. You don't even need a meditation app but when you start to feel overwhelmed start breathing in and out. Focus on your breath. If you have the energy, take a walk.

If you have a lot of energy, hit the treadmill or run for 40 minutes. If you're a runner great, do a 5k. If you're not a runner start the c25k program. Getting your body moving helps. It might be the best, most natural help you can get. When you push your body, and your body feels heavy, your arms feel heavy, and you just want to literally stop, lie down and kiss the ground, if you keep going through all of that, you will build mental strength and also experience dopamine from a runner's high. Nothing makes me feel better than a run, even sex.

If your depression gets worse you might not have the energy anymore. I would highly recommend you recruit the help of your family and friends so they can support you in case you get worse. I wish I had someone that could have helped me find a therapist or psychiatrist while I was struggling. It was so easy but so overwhelming. If you need help looking for a provider in your area, I can help look up options for you. Also here if you ever need to talk.

If you see a psychiatrist and they prescribe you drugs and they work, then that's awesome. You might just need one drug that could lift your mood just to get out of this slump right now- so it's definitely worth looking into. Forget the stigma, if it works, you'll wish you had done this a lot sooner and you'll recover a lot faster too. Are you getting enough sunshine, vitamin D, and B?

This might be shitty advice but something that has helped me a lot is putting things into perspective. If you lose your job, you could find another one. If you start having financial trouble, maybe you can lower your expenses. Maybe identify your worst case scenarios and possible solutions to that and see if it would be that bad and life destroying. It sounds like you've had a really shitty couple of events and of course that would get anyone depressed, so please don't take anything personally, and focus on your health, happiness, and recovery.

For me when I was struggling, the worst case scenario was that I could just pack up my bags, move back home, and start again. That didn't seem so bad. I still had my health, my skills, my relationships, and I could find another job. These days whenever I feel sad, I just think about all the things that I do have that lots of people don't. I'm alive which means I still have the ability to change things. Life can feel shitty but it's still a blessing and a privilege if you were born with the right things and if you're a software dev, you were. You can literally do anything you want, you're just currently in a slump, this slump doesn't define you. Wish you the best of luck.

That is such a difficult place to find yourself; you have my complete sympathy.

First, I'd try to find a mental health professional who also has expertise with career counseling in your field.[0] That person can help you put together a realistic plan based on your capabilities, limitations, and the realities of the job market - they've solved this problem many times, so they'll know about possibilities that you don't, and they'll help you anticipate what will work well for you in the long term.

Everyone has real limitations and IMHO the great majority of people are doing the best they can with what they have. The other people might not talk about their problems and often don't even face them, so you are ahead of the game by taking this step. You just have a mismatch between your job and your current capabilities; it's easy to figure out that you shouldn't be a concert pianist, but some other things are much tougher - especially things we all are conditioned not to face, such as mental health. You only need to find what fits your capabilities and you'll be happy doing. Imagine what a relief it will be not to struggle against the tide every day.

As far as immediate income, I'd find something that induces as little stress as possible, based on what you know, while you make a long-term plan for what works for you. Don't worry if it's a great career move; take care of yourself for now.

And do your best to put your support system to work. You may be surprised how well people who love you respond.

One more thing: The bias against mental health problems is ignorant bullshit. Their insightful analysis is, 'I can't see it, so it must not exist'. Don't be stupid like they are (ignore them and maybe they won't exist). Be realistic about your problem, accept yourself, and I hope you have some compassion for yourself - it sucks, and you didn't ask for it. The fact that you put off dealing with it is natural; we're all conditioned to expect we'll fit a one-size-fits-all career and to think that mental health problems should just be ignored (that same reasoning: if you ignore it then somehow it won't exist). Now's a great chance to point the rest of your life in a healthy direction.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is now.

[0] Most mental health professionals have experience only with careers in their own profession and lack expertise in career counseling. I'd look for someone with both skills. My first approach would be recommendations from businesses on who they send employees to; likely those mental health pros will grasp the business and career side of it. If asking your employer isn't a good option, I'd bet the HR at almost any business would give you a name; maybe contact the HR at some top companies like Google, tell them your situation, and ask if they can recommend someone. It's simple for them and most people would be happy to help someone.

They can fire you,you can't stop em.you'll be lucky if you don't get homeless.that's where many bad mental cases end up.Yes,even if you can get disability,or SSI,you should try & work doing ANYTHING,Some people work for civil service,and regularly have breakdowns,but civil service usually takes them, back.That is the only work place I know of,that has many mentally or emotionally ill people---because after the illness abates,the job takes you back. If it gets too bad, yes, you cannot work.If you can live with any family,even for a while, do it.Once you lose it all,and get homeless,you join the oceans of mentally ill homeless.I struggled all my life,and I finally have a tiny roof over me--everyone else in the family died,i outlived them all.You might want to consider how bad it'll get, cause spending all yer life this way, is horrible,I hate it,it never really improved, serious illnesses never go away completely.--often its a type of brain damage,clinical depression is.good luck.

What 'few mishaps' wiped out your savings? You say that casually, like you forgot to return a library book on time. Why didn't you have much to begin with? Those are 2 giant red flags.

> Does anyone have suggestions?

Develop much better lifestyle habits. It's hard to say much else since you're hiding all real detail from us.

In context, this is attacking someone for being vulnerable. That breaks HN's civility rule and is not ok here. Please don't post like this again.


Edit: since you continued to be aggressive downthread, I've banned the account. If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.

First I want to apologize for only replying to a comment like this.

I've read all of them and I've decided to just be open with my employer about what I told you all. If they've decided to fire me I don't think it could make things worse, but if they're on the fence, currently I can barely even function. The additional stress of wondering is causing me to shut down in a way I haven't experienced before, and I figure handling that will be better than nothing.

But to your comment, I feel like I gave all the details there are. I don't gain anything by lying or hiding anything. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I felt paralyzed when I wrote this post and my goal really was to "dump" the situation and see what other people could pull from it. I could barely move my feet in front of each other leaving the office today let alone think straight about this situation.

And I don't think I implied I was happy with where my savings were, but they've pretty much held me up the best they could. I've only been working professionally for 2 years of my life and only really made enough to save "properly" for a little under 1 year.

Between the cost of moving (including rental trucks security deposits, etc) and those mishaps, someone whose career has only really paid a real salary for 2 years would be hit hard regardless of lifestyle.

And "few mishaps" is 2 not-at-fault car accidents, the second of which left me carless for 5 months (insurance only covers rentals for 30 days).

Add copays for 3 months of PT, a few trips to urgent care when I came down with a respiratory infection and really, "a few mishaps" wiped out what was left of my savings.

I only replied to this because reading the rest of these comments has given me some hope and at least a path forward until tomorrow morning, but I hate the idea of someone in a similar position to me reading a comment like yours. There's no need to get sanctimonious to someone who's already down.

I’m sorry you had to see such an awful comment. I’ve been in your situation, and it will get better. Even if it doesn’t feel like it will.

Some solid actionable items have been suggested by others in terms of finance, but as far as health goes, get to a psychiatrist immediately. Even without insurance, paying cash will likely be around $300. Generic prescriptions can be picked at numerous places for very cheap. I believe wal-mart still sells most generics for $4 for a month supply.

An anti-depressant won’t cure you but it will speed up the process of recovery dramatically by buying you the time to dig yourself out of the hole. At that point hopefully you’ll have enough energy to begin to improve your overall health, e.g. exercise and diet. These are usually the first things you should do, unless you’re in the psycho-motor-retardation phase it sounds like you’re describing. In which case meds first.

The only mistake I see is legitimizing the GP comment with a response. You don't have to justify or explain yourself, or pay any attention to this person's comments. Just be glad the behavioral problems aren't yours and have some compassion for the people who have them.

> There's no need to get sanctimonious to someone who's already down.

Absolutely. It's sickening to see, and the tone is obnoxious. Let's just move on.

All the best to you. Please post back what happens - I hope HN can help. I've found in my life being open with others have generally been a good decision in hindsight - I hope it's true for you too.

> But to your comment, I feel like I gave all the details there are.

Obviously not, or I wouldn't have asked. And then you go on to mention the details that I asked about...

> There's no need to get sanctimonious to someone who's already down.

I was asking for real details, since with the level of issues you seem to have, it seems like you need to do more than just put bandaids on things. Asking for real details when you come here with a serious problem isn't 'being sanctimonious'.

> First I want to apologize for only replying to a comment like this.

If anyone's been sanctimonious, it's you.

I don't follow. Are you implying that he has these issues because he spends all of his money on drugs? The guy came here to ask for help and you're attacking him for.. not sharing enough details?? What details could you possibly want that he hasn't provided yet? Would you be willing to help if he discloses his bank statements for the past 6 months? Is this exchange really all you can offer to people in need?

Asking him for more details isn't attacking him. How is that hard to follow? No, I'm not implying whatever baloney you feel like inventing here.

> What details could you possibly want that he hasn't provided yet?

The ones he provided after I asked him for more details. Are you even reading the thread? Did you not notice that he provided them after I asked for them?

> Is this exchange really all you can offer to people in need?

No, other people have different problems. But at least I'm trying to help which is more than can be said about you.

There’s a theme here. Everyone sees your comment as an attack, or at best in very poor taste, but you. Your replies have only cemented that view. Sounds like OP isn’t the only one that needs help.

Yes, one theme being people being sanctimonious and echoing the advice I already gave: "but as far as health goes, get to a psychiatrist immediately"

We've banned this account for repeatedly violating the site guidelines.

> definitely came across as sanctimonious to my ears. Mea culpa.

If you'd provided the details to begin with I would have been able to say something more targeted to your specific situation than just 'better lifestyle'. But that's one thing it sounded like you might need based on what you'd said at that point.

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