Work Stress Can Lead to Suicide; It Doesn't Have To
Trigger warning: This posts involves frank discussion of work stress and suicide, suicidal feelings, and ideations.
We live in a culture that prioritizes productivity and output above connection, rest, and self-care -- all essential components to maintaining mental health. As such, our sense of self-worth is often intimately tied up with our professional and financial lives. When you live with bipolar disorder, and all of the workplace challenges that come with it, that sense of worthiness can plummet into a lurch of suicidal feelings and ideation. I know, because work stress has taken me to those depths.
Financial and Work Stress Can Lead to Suicidal Feelings
Like many fresh graduates, I struggled to make ends meet when I finished college. The first full-time job I was able to get was inside sales for an office supply company that barely paid over the minimum wage. Since I couldn't afford to live on my own, I had to temporarily move in with family members who lived two hours away from my workplace, which meant I spent a total of four hours a day in my car getting to and from work.
That I had over $40,000 in student loans to pay off and was trying to plan my wedding at the time only added to my stress. I felt almost unbearable work stress and like a complete failure for not getting a better job, for having to move back home when I'd previously been very independent, for depending on financial support from my family and partner so I didn't fall into insolvency. The stress and shame sent me into a dangerous depressive episode. I began having suicidal and self-harming ideations and came very close to checking myself into inpatient care at the state psychiatric hospital.
I was able to pull through with the support of those around me, but finding stable (and profitable) work continued to be a struggle for the next several years. Rejection letter after rejection letter (and that's if I was lucky -- most of the time I was met with silence) made the job hunt so demoralizing that I could barely muster up the motivation to do it, even though I knew I had to.
It was only after I received my bipolar diagnosis in 2019 and began proper treatment that I was finally able to begin building a stable career path. I'm still not quite where I hope to be in the near future, but I'm making good progress and feeling more confident than I have in a long time. I know that I am lucky -- there are many who are not so fortunate.
The Normalization of Work Stress and Burnout Is Dangerous
According to the American Psychological Association, Americans cite work stress and financial worries as the most common personal stressors in their daily lives.1 Contrary to popular belief, career and money woes are not always the result of "bad choices" or a lack of initiative: the cost of living has risen exponentially within the last two decades, whereas wages have remained relatively stagnant.2
Even with a good education and solid work experience, it can be difficult to find work that pays the bills and is emotionally and mentally fulfilling. Combine this with the way that stress, burnout, and exhaustion are normalized and even praised as signs of a "hard worker" in our society, it's no wonder that suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death among Americans3 -- and a global pandemic, social and political unrest, and environmental destruction spurred by a rapidly changing climate do nothing to help matters.
Your Life Is Worth More than Your Resume
It's hard not to compare yourself to others who seem to be where you "should" be in terms of career progression and financial stability, and the shame of feeling like you're doing something "wrong" is very real and very painful. It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing your life has no meaning or hope because of career and monetary setbacks. But your worth as a human being is not defined by your job title, credit score, or bank account.
There are real systemic hurdles in place that can make ascension up the career ladder very difficult -- a bipolar diagnosis among them -- and I know all too well the feelings of despair and self-loathing that come with thinking you'll never be able to pull yourself out of poverty and unfulfilling work. But I'm also here to tell you not to give up on yourself. You have something of value to offer the world just by being here. We need you. Hang on.
If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section.
- American Psychological Association, "Stress in America: Stress and Current Events." Stress in AmericaTM Survey, 2019.
- Investopedia, "How Does the Cost of Living Compare to 20 Years Ago?" August 2019.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Preventing Suicide." April 2020.
Rose, N. (2020, September 20). Work Stress Can Lead to Suicide; It Doesn't Have To, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 11 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/workandbipolarordepression/2020/9/work-stress-can-lead-to-suicide-it-doesnt-have-to