NGA report urges states to develop supported employment programs.
One in ten individuals with severe mental illness who want to and can work is doing so. This statistic stems from barriers to employment including the misconception that individuals with psychiatric disabilities are unable to maintain jobs and the fear individuals have of losing Social Security benefits and Medicaid. In July of 2003 the National Governors Association (NGA) released a paper urging "states to design policies and programs that encourage greater employment of people with mental illness" (Manisses Communication Group, Inc., 2003). This short article outlines the key concepts covered in the NGA paper and includes an interview with Jenn O'Connor, the paper's author.
The paper maintains that if the correct supports are in place, including medical treatment and employment services, an individual with a severe psychiatric disability can hold a competitive job and in turn become more self-sufficient and contribute to society. O'Connor also points out that supported employment can "increase people's self-esteem, and reduce homelessness and incarceration". The NGA paper gives three strategies for states to consider in order to encourage more individuals with psychiatric disabilities to work. The first strategy involves providing customized assistance for at-risk groups, "including screening for depression and providing people with advisement, education, training and employment services" (Manisses Communication Group, Inc., 2003). The second strategy involves "expanding vocational rehabilitation and employment-related services." The last strategy the paper identifies is to "increase professional and non-professional or community supports". The paper studied eight state initiatives implementing a variety of strategies. The study concluded that individuals with psychiatric disabilities, when given the proper supports were able to better handle day-to-day life issues and maintain a competitive job for twice as long as those who did not receive support.
O'Connor acknowledges that the startup costs for such initiatives can be considerable. However, according to Harvey Rosenthal, Executive Director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, "Not only is supported employment the right policy-it's good, smart policy from a fiscal point of view."
Manisses Communication Group, Inc. (2003). NGA report urges states to develop supported employment programs. Mental Health Weekly 13:33, 1-3.