The Emotional Impact of Leaving Work on Disability


by Jacques Chambers, CLU

In my years of working with clients, I have found that making the transition from work to disability is a major life event, right up there with getting married or moving, and it can even affect your mental well-being as well as your physical health. It can also have a dramatic effect on your ability to make decisions objectively and rationally. Clients who recognize this impact and know how to expect such feelings are better prepared to deal with them and minimize them.


Don't worry, you won't "wig out" or "totally lose it." As with medical symptoms, the emotional impact will vary from person to person. The emotional repercussions of leaving work on disability often take the form of depression, lack of concentration, inability to focus on a goal and achieve it, as well as general feelings of malaise, helplessness, and fear of the future. There may be other symptoms both emotional and physical. The important thing to remember is that, uncomfortable as these symptoms are, they are a natural part of this change you are making, and they will pass.


There is frequently a feeling of loss of control over not only the direction of your life, but loss of control over your very own body. Many people feel that stopping work is "giving in" to the medical condition that is now in control of their bodies, and all they can do is watch. Likewise, the medical condition is now dictating your future. You may feel like you no longer have the power to decide what direction to take or what to do next. Such a feeling of helplessness can be devastating emotionally and can create all sorts of symptoms.

There are also those good work ethic messages you learned growing up and which you were probably playing back during the early stages of your condition. Who wouldn't have emotional issues if, in the background of their mind, they keep thinking things like: You're giving up by stopping work, you're a quitter, you're surrendering to the disease, you're "milking the system," you're weak, needy, etc?

Of course, none of these are true or even rational, but our emotions don't react rationally. These "deep" messages may even be communicated by friends and family. People who haven't been disabled do not understand the price you must pay for stopping work. I have heard some refer to their disabled friend as "retired" or "taking it easy."


Speak up, politely but firmly. Do not hesitate to tell those who don't understand what you are going through that this is not a vacation and you wish you could return to work.

Take one step at a time. First, leave work, then apply for the employer's disability, then move your health insurance to COBRA, then apply for Social Security, etc. A list or timeline will help you focus your attention on the next small step without being overwhelmed by the entire process.

Build, activate, and use your support network. Family and friends can give you emotional support as well as practical assistance, but you may need to ask for it.

Consider short-term therapy. Many people find that a few months with a therapist trained in the emotional issues associated with a disability can be of great help.


Many people worry that after they leave work, they will have nothing to do. More than one of my clients has worried that they will have too much time on their hands only to return after leaving work to tell me they are so busy, they have no idea how they were able to work full-time. Initially, at least, there's a lot to do, applications and claims to file, health insurance to adjust, government benefits to apply for. If you are the type of personality that was always busy before, trust me, you will be as busy as you want and are able to be once you go on disability. There are classes to be taken, family to be enjoyed, and volunteer projects to do.

Recognize that some emotional upheaval when leaving work is a natural part of the process. Don't let it scare you into believing that it is more than just a passing reaction to what's going on with your life at the moment. It will pass; you will move on. Life will continue.

Jacques Chambers, CLU, and his company, Chambers Benefits Consulting, have over 35 years of experience in health, life and disability insurance and Social Security disability benefits. For the past twelve years, he has been assisting people with their rights, problems, and other issues concerning benefits and disability. He can be reached at or through his Web site at: Adapted article; original published by Hepatitis C Support Project © June 2007


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