May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health awareness has come a long way but still there needs to be more education and awareness. We need to lose the stigma and get comfortable talking about it.
Mental illness is defined as changes to an individual’s behavior, emotional response, or thinking that lead to distress or problems functioning in social situations, work, or family life. Experts estimate that one in five US adults experience mental illness each year.
Living with a mental health condition can make life more complicated. However, it doesn’t have to keep a person from having a fulfilling life.
As professional organizers it is not uncommon for us to work with clients with special needs. Very often the client will let us know right away that they have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Or they might say that they suspect that they have a certain disorder.
It is important for us to know what to expect when working with those clients. We need to continue our education to learn all that we can concerning illnesses. The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) offers many such classes.
It is especially important to listen to our clients. I have found that they will often tell you things to do or not do right away. This saves us both a lot of grief.
I have had a client tell me never to reach across her to get something. I have been told to always say the client’s name when working with them on a project and make certain that they have acknowledged that I am speaking to them. I have been told to only give them one thing at a time and not start tidying up stacks for them to work on later while they are working now. I learned with one of my clients not to completely clear a surface or the floor.
Open communication and frequent checking in are so important.
I feel I should not even have to say this but will put out the reminder to watch your language when working with clients with special needs. Never use labels. Don’t say a person is bi-polar or a hoarder. They are not. They may be a person with some hoarding-like behaviors. Don’t make statements like, “Oh, I am so OCD myself,” when you are not.
As organizers, we are not there to fix any of their illnesses. We are there to help them with coping strategies to make their world a better place for them. We are there to show acceptance.
Having said that, I will also say that we need to know when it is time to walk away. I have worked with a lovely client who has said that she was bi-polar. There have been a couple of times when she was just not able to work when I was scheduled. If she started yelling at me or saying things that were not acceptable, then it was OK for me to say to her, “This is not a good day to work. I’d like to come back another time.” I accepted that this was part of her disorder but also told her that I could not accept what was going on at this moment. I did not judge. I just stated a fact.
If you are not comfortable working with clients that have mental health problems, then please refer them on to someone who has the background and interest to work with them.
Besides the great classes offered by ICD, there are many great books on the topic of working with people with special needs. Diane N. Quintana and I have written one of them, Filled Up and Overflowing: what to do when live events, chronic disorganization, or hoarding go overboard. We supply tips and resources for working with clients with special needs.
Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, award-winning author, as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing and virtual organizing. For more of Jonda’s tips connect with her on Facebook.