happy-labor-dayAs we prepare to celebrate Labor Day this long weekend, it seems an appropriate time to discuss the continuing problem of employment for those with a mental illness. Consider these statistics:

  • Approximately 80% of individuals with mental illness are unemployed. This figure is actually a low estimate, as it does not include the estimated half million people with mental illness who are homeless or incarcerated.
  • For those with mental illness who do obtain employment, their wages tend to be less. One study found that 70% of working individuals with serious mental illness and college degrees earn less than $10 an hour.
  • An estimated 60% of individuals with mental illness want to work.
  • Two-thirds of people with mental illness are able to work successfully if they are provided with proper supports. Such supports can range from adjusted hours to job coaches.
  • The cost of underemployment of the mentally ill costs society as well as the affected individuals. The National Institute of Mental Health has estimated that approximately two-thirds of the almost half a trillion dollar U.S. cost of mental illness is due to lost earnings and disability payments.
  • Almost half of individuals receiving federal disability income have a diagnosed mental illness. NAMI finds that people with mental illness are the fastest growing group receiving disability today.

The reasons for the above statistics are varied. They include continued stigma and misinformation about mental illness, cost concerns, lack of sufficient training and supports, and fear of losing needed benefits by individuals themselves. Solutions include increased community education, better funding for supported employment programs and other vocational training, and more flexible disability benefit eligibility for individuals venturing into the workplace.

The benefits of increased employment of this mental health population are tremendous, both in reduced costs to society and improved quality of life for individuals with mental illness. Research has shown that mentally ill individuals who work competitively have fewer symptoms, reduced mental health care costs, and an overall better quality of life.

On this weekend when we celebrate employment and enjoy a break from it, let’s also think about the value of giving a break to millions of Americans who want a chance to work.

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