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For people who live with mental illness, work can be an essential step on the path to wellbeing and recovery. Employment not only increases income, it also lends structure to daily life, provides a sense of purpose, opportunities to learn and a chance to interact with others.
Most people living with mental illness want to work but unemployment and underemployment are far higher among people with mental illness than in the general population. While the challenges that come with mental illness may make it harder to get and keep a good job, there are programs designed to help with work readiness, job search and workplace support in employment in line with a person’s skills and interests.
Working can help some individuals with mental illness move toward recovery by providing:
Based on research, the most common reasons for individuals affected by mental illness to be unemployed or underemployed include:
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a government program available in each state to provide career counseling and job search assistance for people with disabilities, including mental illness. Funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education, VR services are time limited, but may be combined with other supports help you identify your career goals, gain skills, get a job and succeed in the workplace. VR program structures vary from state to state. To learn more about your specific state program, you will want to visit your state’s VR agency. The U.S. Department of Education has created a webpage with links to all of the VR programs in the United States. Click here to locate your state VR program.
Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Supported Employment programs are evidence-based programs designed to help you find a job that matches your interests and talents. If you qualify for IPS services, an employment specialist will work with you and your mental health team to help you identify and work toward specific, job-related goals. Once you find a job, your team will continue to provide you with the support you need to succeed in the workplace. There are no time limits on IPS supported employment services. You can receive these services as long as necessary. Click here to learn more.
Clubhouses are community-based centers open to individuals with mental illness. Clubhouse members have the opportunity to gain skills, locate a job, find housing, and pursue continuing education. Members work side-by-side with staff to make sure the program operates smoothly. Members also have the opportunity to take part in social events, classes and weekend activities. There are no time limits on Clubhouse services. Click here to learn more.
Small Business Ownership. Starting a business can provide flexibility and meaningful work. Although careful thought and planning are required, resources are available to help. Click here to learn more.
Volunteer Work. Volunteering can bring all of the rewards of work other than income. It is important to remember that volunteer work is real work, with responsibilities and opportunities to learn, to interact with others and to be appreciated. If you are not ready or not interested in getting a paycheck, volunteer work may be an option. Click here to read one person’s perspective on volunteer work.
Individuals with disabilities, including mental illness, deserve fair and equal treatment in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are two federal laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities on the job. Many states also have laws that protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination and unfair treatment at work. Click here to learn more.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) now makes it possible for you to return to work without losing health insurance. The law requires new plans to cover mental health care and offers help to pay insurance costs. Click here to learn more.
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