Overcoming Unemployment and Mental Illness

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Dr. Jon LaPook of CBS News reported that 90% of seriously mentally ill people in this country are unemployed. Advocates believe that almost half of all mentally ill people who want to work could be working with a program known as "supported employment." Supported employment has been recognized as an evidence-based practice by the Center for Evidence Based Practices in North Carolina. There is no federal funding for supported employment which would come under Vocational Rehabilitation through the Rehabilitative Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Education, and only a dozen states or so are willing to pay for the service, which costs around $3000 per client in the first year.

Supported employment does not end after the client finds a job but continues indefinitely, as long as the client wants and needs the services of an employment specialist or job coach. The program is different from a sheltered workshop in that it always involves finding a job in the competitive job market. It helps if the employer has an understanding attitude and is willing to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act and, if necessary, provide a reasonable accomodation to a mentally disabled employee. According the Dr. LaPook's report, supported employment involves seven principles which are conveyed to clients by a woman citied in the report who is an employment specialist in a supported employment program. Mentally ill people who are employed have less need for emergency psychiatric services than those who are unemployed.

This report was from 2009. Therefore, it is likely that with the continuing high unemployment rate, clients of supported employment programs may be having a more difficult time than several years ago in finding employment. With employment, there are issues for disabled people in being able to continue receiving government benefits, including health coverage under either Medicaid or Medicare. Housing programs can also be problematic for mentally ill people.

As an editorial comment, I would add that when progressives criticize the Democrats for not being progressive enough, they should do a better job of being aware that the existing programs which have been implemented over time for disabled people are inadequate in any number of respects. The lack of federal and state funding for supported employment for people with psychiatric and other related disabilies is a prime example of this.

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Robindell
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