National Alliance on Mental Illness
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What You Said About Employment

Last week, several questions from the TRIAD survey concerning employment were posted on this website. Eighty-one individuals responded to the questions. The replies show some distinctions from what was found in the NAMI membership survey-for example, 64 of 76 respondents to the question were individuals with a mental illness and 12 were family members and friends. In addition, 24 percent of the 77 individuals responding to the question reported working full-time (35 hours a week or more) and another 22 percent reported working part-time. Just over half of the respondents to the question-53 percent-reported being unemployed.

Stigma and discrimination still emerged as the leading reported barrier to employment. And supported employment was not accessed by most in the last year; those who reported on the quality of supported employment in the last year rated the service poor (11 of 22 responses to the question). No one called the intervention excellent.

The open-ended comments clearly showed the stress and strain of trying to obtain or maintain a job. Many individuals detailed the stranglehold that stigma and discrimination have on them in the work world, reflected in the insensitivity of bosses and co-workers and the struggle with decisions of disclosure.

It is difficult to maintain a job whenever I get too sick to come to work. I have major depression and it is hard to explain to an employer why I cannot come in to work, especially when they think my condition is trivial and they believe that I just need to "get over it".

I have yet to fully inform an employer of my mental illness and the limitations that are imposed upon me. Therefore I become overwhelmed with work, but I am unwilling to say that it is too much to deal with.

Found that working in an environment that is not in tune to mental illness can be very difficult.Co-workers treated me strange, I was told not to talk about my mental illness because it would upset others. Very demeaning!

I have had enormous difficulty in securing employment because I am reluctant to reveal that I have a mental illness and therefore cannot otherwise explain (1) the gaps in my employment history; (2) the reason that I am applying for jobs for which based on my resume I am overqualified; (3) the reason I want to change careers (saying I want a less stressful job just doesn't inspire confidence); (4) the reason why my employment references are several years old; (5) the reason why I've moved to a new community (I had a very public, very notorious, seven-month psychotic manic episode in a city where I was a modest public figure).

it is hard because my employer doesn’t understand what I go through, and thinks that I have no "real" problems, it is just me faking to get out of work,

Also evident in the experiences shared by those who took NAMI’s web survey on employment is how desperately people with mental illness want to work-despite tremendous obstacles.

No matter how hard I try, I don't know if I will be able to get a job to support myself. I am 32, and I was diagnosed with Major Depression and ADD within the past 2 1/2 years...the diagnosis answered a lot of questions about my behavior - and the medication has helped tremendously. I am finally starting to feel okay. However, I am a college graduate with 9 years of post-graduation job instability. I haven't had a job that offered medical insurance since 1996 - so, I rely on samples of medicine from my Dr.'s office. NO insurance and NO job also means NO counseling - I can't even afford the scaled fee of $20! I have to wonder how much better I could be doing if I could find work (and pay for the counseling I really need)? I have been looking for work for over 6 months now - and I am losing hope. I got declined for a housecleaning position I applied for today...they wanted an applicant with more experience. I can't even get a job cleaning toilets and floors! The stress of trying to find work without divulging personal information is exhausting. Only twice did I try to explain the major gaps in my work history honestly - and I was met with a cold response in both cases. Their reaction, after confiding in them, made me feel like a social pariah - people don't understand what mental illness can do to your life. I thought honesty might work in my favor, but so far it hasn't. Something has to change! I am only 32...I am not ready to accept that I am "unemployable".

Your voice clearly indicates that there is a long way to go until employment becomes a possibility for all individuals with mental illnesses who want to work. With the broad implementation of quality supported employment services-geared to all levels of training and ability. With health benefits in the private and public sector that cover mental illness treatment without penalty or discrimination. And with sustained and vigorous efforts to end stigma and discrimination against mental illness, which continues to be so extensive and debilitating.

Thanks to those who took the survey and had the courage to tell us about their struggles.