Finding and Keeping a Job With Schizophrenia

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on April 21, 2022
3 min read

If you have schizophrenia, the idea of holding down a job may seem like an unlikely or even an impossible goal. But your mental illness doesn’t have to keep you from employment. Working can boost your self-worth, ease your symptoms, and help speed up your recovery.

It’s important to stick to your schizophrenia treatment and use helpful on-the-job strategies to deal with your symptoms.

Stigma against schizophrenia and other mental disorders can be a real barrier to employment. In some countries, only one or two out of 10 people with schizophrenia have jobs.

Some jobs may be better suited for you than other lines of work. The right kind will depend on your work experience, education, and how severe your symptoms can be. It makes a big difference to have a supportive work environment and understanding co-workers and managers. For some people, jobs that require some physical labor may be easier than more sedentary jobs that demand a lot of mental concentration.

A few tips for your search:

Think about your strengths and skills and look for jobs that line up with those traits. People with schizophrenia hold all kinds of positions, including senior managers and other professionals, cleaners and laborers, and salespeople. You may not have experience in a certain field, but if the job tasks fit your abilities, give it a try.

Keep an open mind. You may want to work full time. But part-time jobs may be more manageable for you, especially if you are also enrolled in rehab or supportive programs for your schizophrenia.

Reach out to agencies and advocacy groups. Many organizations have connections with employers who understand some of the unique challenges and gifts of people with schizophrenia or other mental health conditions. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a list of job resources for people with physical and psychiatric disabilities.

For someone with schizophrenia, writing a resume, filling out a job application, and sitting through interviews can be challenges. You may wonder if you need to disclose anything about your condition, for example. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bars employers from asking for details about your mental or physical health. Disclosure is your choice. The hiring managers can’t discriminate against you for your condition.

The ADA requires employers to make reasonable efforts to meet the needs of their employees. That can include such things as flexible work schedules or changing your environment to lessen distractions. Your employer may need to ask you questions about your condition in order to accommodate you. Not all workplace accommodations may be possible.

The law also protects your privacy. If the hiring manager asks about employment gaps, for example, you can simply say you were dealing with an illness. An employer is not allowed to press for more details unless you’re making a request for accommodations. If possible, explain how you filled the gaps in your work history with education or training.

One study of working adults with schizophrenia showed that success in the workplace is often linked to key behavioral strategies, including:

  • Taking your medication exactly as your doctor prescribes it
  • Keeping away from drugs and alcohol
  • Avoiding stressful situations
  • Interacting with supportive, nonjudgmental people

If memory and organization are especially challenging for you, try these tips:

  • Use calendars, checklists, reminder notes, and other tools to stay on track with your tasks.
  • Try to work in a setting with fewer distractions and time and space for quiet breaks.
  • If your job involves lots of interaction with the public or co-workers, practice social skills when meeting with your therapist or in group sessions.

A proven way to stay employed if you have schizophrenia is to use the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) models, which are designed for people with serious mental illnesses. You work with an employment specialist, employers, and your mental health care team to find and keep the right job.

Surrounding yourself with people who are supportive and compassionate about your mental disorder can make a huge difference in your work life. If you’re comfortable sharing your story with co-workers or managers, it can help remove the stigma of schizophrenia and to build trust. Talk about your symptoms and what you do to manage them, and let them know how they might support you.