Working With Schizophrenia
Experts stress the importance of getting and keeping a job
Going Back to School continued...
Frederick J. Frese III, PhD, was in the Marine Corps when he developed schizophrenia. "I had the delusion that the enemy was brainwashing higher-ranking officials, and that was preventing us from winning the Vietnam War," he says.
After 5 months of intense treatment, Frese was able to continue on his path to success. "I immediately went back to school in business and then worked at a Fortune 500 company in management," he says. When a second episode landed him in the hospital again, he didn't give up. Once he was stable, he found another job and pursued his PhD in psychology.
Today, Frese is an associate professor of psychiatry at Northeast Ohio Medical University. He attributes his success to a combination of his own commitment to recovery and a strong support system. "I take medication and see a psychiatrist regularly," he says. "It would have been easy to throw up my hands and say, 'I can't do this' … but I had this determination to have a career in mental health even though I had this condition."
Rehabilitation and Job Training
Rehabilitation for people with schizophrenia can range from learning to use public transportation and manage money to career counseling and job training. Therapy to improve thinking skills is important to gain long-term employment.
A 2008 study found those who got these services were more likely to work than patients with schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder who didn’t get the help.
What to Tell the Boss
A tricky decision is when and how to let an employer know about this illness. It’s a good question to ask your doctor.
"It depends on the individual and how well they have responded to medication," Jewell says. "If symptoms have essentially disappeared, there's really no need to tell an employer. Some people who have a less than complete response to medication may well need to [tell.]" If active symptoms get in the way of work duties, it might be a good idea to have a conversation with the boss about needs, such as doctor’s appointment times.
Frese offers similar advice. "It's a good idea not to advertise or tell people if you don’t have to," Frese says, especially at the beginning of your career. If you're older or nearing the end of your career, Frese encourages you to tell your co-workers. More openness about schizophrenia will help reduce the stigma.