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Should you quit your job for your mental health?


Because I specialize in both mental health and career counseling, I have a lot of conversations with clients about why they’re experiencing mental health concerns related to their work.

These concerns usually present as anxiety, depression, and sometimes posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I often define these mental health conditions as “situational” because they likely wouldn’t be present if the person had a different work environment.

How work environments impact mental health 

Excessive workload

Workload is one major cause for concern. It may become a problem when employees can’t keep up with their work no matter how hard they try. Employers who don’t give their staff the resources they need to complete their work only contribute to the problem.

Employees may feel there’s no way to improve their situation, which leads to anxiety and depression as they struggle to resolve their circumstances. Overloading people with work can also compound the issue by making it difficult for them to practice self-care and spend time with loved ones, which may result in health problems and sometimes employee burnout

Traumatic work environments

Workers who serve in harm’s way in the military or police force, save lives as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), or hold other jobs that regularly pose risks may face greater challenges to their mental health. High-risk work can help make preexisting mental health conditions worse, as well as contribute to new ones.

Toxic workplace

Toxic work environments may include workplace bullying, sexual harassment, lack of input from employees, micromanagement, unrealistic expectations, barriers to career advancement, or lack of acknowledgement and appreciation. When my clients describe experiencing these issues at work, they also tend to mention feelings of low self-worth, lack of motivation, physical health problems, loss of interest in relationships and hobbies, and loss of hope.

If you notice any of those same feelings, your workplace may be causing mental health challenges. If so, you may benefit from changing roles or leaving your organization. No one should work in conditions where their mental health is negatively impacted on a regular basis.

The ultimate question: Should I stay or should I go?

Depending on the situation, involving your human resources department or taking legal action may be an appropriate next step before you consider leaving your job. (Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.) Human resources can help improve the situation by making your employer aware of current problems, so they have the opportunity to correct them.

Liz’s story

When Liz came to see me, she was very distraught. Before starting her new job, she’d always been carefree and happy, with lots of interests and hobbies and friends, and she’d been a high achiever and successful in her career. In her new position, she was micromanaged by her boss, who had unrealistic expectations, and felt she could never make a dent in her huge workload.

Aside from her boss and her lack of free time, Liz liked a lot of aspects of her new job and was confused about why she felt anxious and depressed. When she started losing friends and interest in hobbies she’d enjoyed for years, she took it as a warning sign and decided to start therapy with me.

At first, Liz thought she had naturally fallen into a state of depression and anxiety and that it was her fault she couldn’t improve the situation with her boss or her workload. But when we explored some disrespectful actions her boss had taken and the unrealistic expectations her boss had set, Liz realized she was in a toxic work environment that was impacting every area of her life.

Liz and I talked through her options of going to human resources or leaving her job. Ultimately she decided to try human resources first because of everything she did like about the role. The HR team had been very supportive of Liz when cross-training her for a different position, so she felt they would take her concerns about her boss seriously and try to make improvements.

In the end, Liz’s boss was terminated after human resources conducted an investigation into Liz’s allegations of mistreatment. Several other colleagues had similar experiences with the same manager that had impacted their mental and physical health, and the investigation concluded that several laws had been violated.

Several months after her new boss joined her team at work, Liz began to feel like her old self. She reconnected with friends, began enjoying hobbies again, and woke up feeling excited about life. She also formed a great relationship with her new boss, who gave her a much more manageable workload. Liz felt respected and heard, and she had new opportunities for growth. She stopped experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

When it makes sense to leave

Liz’s workplace improved drastically because her human resources department supported a healthy work environment, as shown by their responsiveness to employee concerns. Unfortunately, not all companies and HR teams respond as effectively, and they may allow toxic work environments to continue.

If you’ve done your part to communicate your needs, asked for reasonable adjustments, and taken steps to make your workplace better without any response or action from your employer, it may be time to look for a position elsewhere for the sake of your mental health. You deserve to feel respected and valued at work, just like Liz.

About the author

Suzi Sena, EdS, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor with over 20 years of experience in human resources, education, integrative mental health, career counseling, and private practice settings. She earned her master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University, her master’s in counselor education from Kean University, and her EdS degree in family and marriage therapy from The College of New Jersey. She holds numerous certifications and credentials in integrative mental health, career counseling, and human resources. She is currently in private practice, where she provides integrative mental health services to individuals and couples and consulting services to employers.

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