Can Individuals Suffering with Mental Illness Really Work?

This question is asked from almost every family member of those entering our mental health treatment center. The old theory used to be that “Oh, they are too ill to work; it’s going to increase their anxiety, make them sicker and cause them stress.” However, evidence shows that those who obtain competitive employment have decreased their symptoms and even reduce their use of alcohol and substance abuse. Not only that, we also see an increase in income, self-esteem and hygiene among these clients. By working, they are able to feel like contributing members of their community. So the answer is yes, individuals suffering with mental illness can work!

The current unemployment rate in CA has remained at 7.4 for the last few months; however, the unemployment rate among people with serious mental illnesses is at 82% percent according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. You might wonder why the number is so high. The truth is most adults with mental illness want to work, but very few receive the right support or assistance.

At our treatment center, we work with wide range of clients of mental health including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and those with dual diagnoses. What we do is provide hope and belief. The hope that they can achieve anything they want if they are willing to put in the work. The belief that they are just like any of us who can function normally in their daily life such driving a car, having a partner, holding a job and etc.

A first step in this process is developing the clients’ willingness to work and to start looking at what they need help with. This might include starting or updating their resume, creating a master application and cover letter, contacting old employers or friends for references, and actively applying for jobs. Second, they will need to reach out for help from a supported employment program and obtain a job coach to work along with them. Here, we provide job assistance, resume building, volunteer opportunities, and the skills that they will need to learn to succeed in whatever job they desire. We also ask that clients stay healthy and active in their treatment plan, as it is a very important part of getting and keeping a job. Some clients have either very limited job skills in the past or have no work experience at all; it will take some time to build their resume and references. They also require assistance learning basic skills and working etiquette.

The last and most important aspect of this process is getting support; support from their family, friends, therapists, job coaches and the people that they care about. With the right support and love, people suffering with mental illness can work and succeed.