Labor DayOn this Labor Day holiday, we celebrate working men and women all over the nation, who provide for their families and strengthen our country through their productivity. Perhaps it is fitting that we take a moment to consider the employment of those with mental illness and other behavioral health problems.

As the economic outlooks improves for most Americans, 80% of individuals with mental illness are unemployed today. Almost two-thirds of these individuals truly want to work, and an estimated 40% can be successful at holding down a job if provided with proper support.

Jobs not only allow people to earn money to support themselves. Work also serves as a vital part of therapy for many individuals with mental health problems. Research has shown that individuals with mental illness for maintain competitive employment also have fewer symptoms, lower mental health costs for treatment, and an overall higher quality of life.

Unemployment of those with mental illness not only costs the individual, but society as a whole. Around two-thirds of the cost of mental illness on the economy comes from individuals’ lost earnings and disability payments.

But these government benefits only provide a little more than 18% of the country’s median one-person household income. Many people with serious mental illness live near the federal poverty level, but the investment of state or federal dollars into job training or supported employment programs can pay huge dividends for individuals and the economy. Mental health patients who are employed use fewer government resources and live productively in their communities.

The reasons for the high unemployment rate among those with mental illness are many. They range from lack of training and support to the stigma surrounding mental illness that affects employer attitudes.

U.S. surveys have found that up to half of employers are hesitant to hire someone with a previous or current psychiatric history. About 70% may be unwilling to hire someone with a substance abuse history or someone who takes antipsychotic medication. Almost a quarter of surveyed employers said that would dismiss someone who had not previously disclosed a mental illness.

At Perry Wellness Center, we try to do our part in reducing stigma by having peers and staff work side by side in serving the community. Many PWC peers have gone on to complete their education, obtain jobs in the community, or work at the center. Please continue to support our peers as they make strides to be full, productive members of our local communities.

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