Employment Issues for People with Mental Illness
One of the most misunderstood disabilities is mental illness. Major advances have been made in the understanding and treatment of mental illness, and are continuing to be made. Through a combination of counseling, medication, self-help groups and other support services, many people with mental illness lead very productive lives. One-Stop system staff may have significant concerns and questions about their ability to meet the needs of people with mental illness. However, as with any other individual with a disability, by simply practicing good customer service, combined with respect, understanding, and following some simple guidelines, One-Stop staff can assist many people with mental health issues to find employment and advance in their careers. People with mental illness include doctors, lawyers, software engineers, university professors with Ph.D.s., architects, teachers - people from virtually every profession and background.
Although a person with a psychiatric disability might have complex needs, this does not preclude his/her ability to contribute through working. One of the most significant barriers to employment for people with mental health issues are attitudes: their own, those of family members and helping professionals, and employers. Poor work history or poor social behavior can also be barriers.
How to Help
The following principles have been shown to be effective in helping people with mental illness to get jobs. One-Stop staff need to:
- believe that the goal of employment is both valuable and possible
- be able to instill hope, support, and enthusiasm for the goal of work
- be aware that using a variety of strategies is most likely to lead to success
- understand that employment advocacy is crucial.
An essential element for success is to have the job seeker direct the job search and be involved in all aspects of the process. As with any job seeker, it is essential to do everything possible to ensure a good match between the individual and the work environment.
The Issue of Stigma
People with mental illness are probably more overtly stigmatized and discriminated against than are those with other disability labels. This, in combination with the symptoms of the illnesses themselves, leads to an unemployment rate estimated to be as high as 90%. Dealing with the stigma of mental illness may be more handicapping to the individual than the effect of the disability itself! That is why it is so important for One-Stop staff to provide an environment of hope, belief, and support.
Institute for Community Inclusion