By Alexis Kaczynski
and Greg Paffhouse
Employment is a source of pride for many people in our society — it instills a sense of community, provides a connection to the world around us and gives us the satisfaction of a job well done. The rewards associated with employment are the same for individuals with mental illness as for those without. However, individuals with mental illness have the highest unemployment rate of any group of disabilities, despite a desire and a capacity to work.
Often, people with mental illness want to work and are capable, but are denied the opportunity due to the stigma associated with mental illness. Denying someone the opportunity to work based on a mental illness diagnosis prevents the individual from living a fulfilling and productive life. Finding employment boosts self-esteem, which in turn can alleviate some psychiatric symptoms and increase independence. For many, employment also can allow individuals to escape poverty and rid themselves of the stigma associated with being unemployed.
Most of the time, the biggest barrier to employment is the employer’s misconceptions about mental health conditions. Some employers may believe that an individual with a mental health disorder will be unable to work, have attendance problems or poor work quality. However, 70 percent of employers who are involved with Supported Employment programs — which help those with intellectual/developmental disabilities and mental illness find work — report that employees with disabilities are excellent workers. Last year, Supported Employment services were provided to over 100 people with serious and persistent mental illness in the twelve counties that North Country and Northern Lakes CMH serves. In addition, Petoskey Club, the New Horizons Clubhouse, Traverse House Clubhouse and Club Cadillac all offer vocational skill building with transitional employment opportunities to hone job skills. Seventy-two achieved community employment, transitional employment or self-employment. Fidelity to the evidence-based model remains high with a goal of providing more employment support and successful job obtainment this year. Choosing to employ an individual with mental illness is more than just the right thing to do — it also makes for a solid business case. Customers with disabilities and their families represent a trillion dollar market segment. Typically, this market segment purchases products and services from companies that best meet their needs. Individuals with mental illness also bring unique experiences and understanding to the table, which can transform the workplace. It’s well documented that innovation is the key to business success, and employing individuals with disabilities can help move your company forward. Where there is a shortage of employees, especially to meet seasonal needs, employing people with disabilities is a great choice.