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Executive Director’s Report: October Is Disability Employment Awareness Month

July 1, 2020
Let’s celebrate the increase in employing people living with mental illness!!Kris Gamm-Smith - NAMI SWI Executive Director

People living with a mental illness can work. The common belief that people with mental illness cannot work, is quite frankly a MYTH! Stigma is based on false information. Stigma leaves some people believing that people with mental health challenges are not motivated, ambitious, intelligent or capable. Sadly, these misconceptions combined with a lack of support keeps many people from working.

As a society, we must pay attention to this. Employers need to realize that this directly effects the work environment and productivity. Look at some of the facts:

  • Depression and anxiety cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion each year in lost productivity…
  • Mental health and substance abuse cost US businesses between $80 and $100 billion annually…
  • Another study showed that serious mental illness costs America up to $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year…

The issue here is not that we refrain from hiring people with mental challenges. On the contrary, we need to provide the supports within the work environment, as well as resources in the community, to assist in making employment a positive experience for this population.

Why go to such lengths you ask? For one, the social costs of the unemployed and underemployment of people living with mental illness are incalculable. When you look at deteriorated health, health care costs, and financial struggles for families, the price you pay is much greater over time. That is just one side of the coin. On the other, employment is a significant factor in recovery. Work gives a sense of purpose allow us to contribute to our family and society. The fact is, that the majority of those with mental illness can succeed in work with the appropriate support.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, when requested by an employee with a disability. The one caveat is that it cannot cause undue hardship on the employer. Some examples include telecommuting, flexible scheduling, sick leave, breaks and noise reduction. These accommodations are generally low cost and easy to implement.

There are several types of work-related programs that can assist people living with mental illness by providing on-the-job support, training and even job placement. Some of those include Supported Employment – Individual Placement and Support (IPS), Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), and Clubhouses (such as Fountain House, which achieves an employment rate of 42% versus only 15% for people with serious mental illness in the general population).

There is a growing movement to employ people with lived experience regarding mental illness to become employed in the health care industry, particularly mental health. They are trained to be either a certified peer specialist or a certified recovery support specialist, where they can use their personal experience in recovery to help others along their journey in recovery.

Any of the above programs can be checked out through your local mental health agencies for further information.

In closure, mental illness does not have to be an obstacle to working. People with mental health challenges can be successfully employed. It, in fact, is not only a benefit to the worker, but also a cost savings to employers and society as a whole.

Kristine Gamm-Smith, M. A.
Executive Director, NAMI SWI

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