Working With Schizophrenia
Experts stress the importance of getting and keeping a job
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.
Frese rejects the idea that certain types of work might be best for people with schizophrenia. While routine, low-stress jobs may be beneficial for some, others thrive in more demanding posts.
Elyn Saks, JD, PhD, is a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law with joint appointments in law, psychology, and psychiatry. She is also the author of a memoir called The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.
"Work is one of my best defenses against my mental illness," Saks says. "It keeps me stable." Despite hospitalization three times during young adulthood, Saks graduated from Yale Law School and later received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant. To keep her schizophrenia symptoms at bay, she stays on medication and sees a therapist four or five times a week.
"I have occasional delusional thoughts, but I tell myself, 'It's just your illness,' and I dismiss those thoughts."
Saks says her success is not as rare as people might think. "There are others like me. It's just the stigma that keeps people from coming forward."
A schizophrenia diagnosis doesn’t rule out a successful career, Jewell says. "Everything is a possibility depending on the person," he says. With a successful response to treatment, "there's a chance they might be able to do just about anything."