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Mental Health Center

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Report: Adults With Serious Mental Illnesses Face 80% Unemployment

WebMD News from Kaiser Health News

By Jenny Gold

Employment rates for people with a serious mental illness are dismally low and getting worse, according to a report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Just 17.8 percent of people receiving public mental health services were employed in 2012 – down from 23 percent in 2003.

That’s an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent.

“It isn’t surprising,” says Sita Diehl, director of state policy at NAMI and author of the report. The problem has less to with the workers themselves, she says, and more with the organizations that provide services for people with serious mental illness. “We knew that mental health services really took it on the chin during the recession. Employment rates had already been dismal to begin with, and when the supports were eroded, people with mental illness lost support and lost jobs.”

Rates of unemployment for people with mental illnesses varied greatly by state – from 92.6 percent in Maine to 56 percent in Wyoming.

Most adults with mental illness want to work, and six in 10 can succeed with the right supports, according to the report. Yet only 1.7 percent received supported employment services in 2012.

Without proper supports, many end up on expensive public programs including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). People with mental illnesses make up the largest and fastest growing group for both programs.

There are, however, several evidence-based programs to help individuals with mental illnesses find jobs and maintain them.

In La Crosse, Wis., for example, the Family and Children’s Center received funding to offer a supported employment program that currently serves 72 people.

One of them is Pierre Thomas, 30, who suffers from bipolar disorder. After being released from a hospital, he ended up on the streets.

“I was going downhill and became homeless. I had basically lost everything – friends, family, I was going nowhere,” recalls Thomas. One day, he stopped by the Family and Children’s Center, where he was connected with a case worker, mental health services and someone he calls his “job person,” who helped him land an interview at the local Hobby Lobby.

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