Hire-Ability Connects Mentally Ill With Jobs
> 9/17/2007 2:19:09 PM

For the mentally ill, receiving a good education and holding down a job can be more difficult than for most. Fortunately, there are programs like Hire-Ability, a branch of Richmond Area Multi-Services (RAMS) that offers vocational opportunities to poverty-level individuals suffering from mental illness. In an article today for the San Francisco Chronicle writer Chris Colin describes Hire-Ability's success. Individuals who qualify for the program have access to job training and are coached on effective communication, work endurance, punctuality, and other related skills. They offer classes in such vocational fields as retail, food service, and janitorial. Colin reports that of 134 clients admitted between July 2006 and June 2007, 46 found jobs and 27 still had those jobs after 90 days. Others who were involved in training courses, had taken volunteer positions, or were seeking further therapy, and few clients had actually left the program.

Unfortunately, we need programs like Hire-Ability to ensure that individuals suffering from the effects of severe mental illness will be able to find employment. Despite tax credits for employers who hire the mentally ill and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires equal opportunities and appropriate accommodations for the disabled, most employers would rather hire someone without a mental illness—or at least someone who has not disclosed that they suffer from one. Many people have mild forms of mental disorders and can hold down a job without relating their mental health status. For those who must be open about their illness, because they require time off for doctor's appointments, a more flexible schedule, or an office in a quiet area where concentrating will be easier, stigmas regarding the mentally ill can become major barriers to good jobs. The general population still tends to view the mentally ill as unreliable and violent, two misconceptions that often lead to discrimination. In reality, the greatest problems the mentally ill face lie not with their competence but with adapting to the pressures and nuances of a work environment, a task Hire-Ability helps them to accomplish.

Although individuals with serious mental illnesses are often unable to receive advanced education and find high-paying jobs, >a study by Zlatka Russinova and Marsha Ellison found that many are able to overcome these boundaries. The researchers surveyed nearly 500 individuals who had been employed in professional, managerial, or technical positions for at least two years and also suffered from a serious mental illnesses, including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. They found that 83% had a college degree or higher, 62% had held the same position for over two years, 29% had held the same position for over five years, and 22% made more than $50,000 per year. At the time of the study 88% were taking psychopathic medication. When asked how they maintained their jobs, answers included taking breaks, medication, and support from a spouse, partner, or therapist.

Support is an important factor for mentally ill individuals who struggle to find employment, whether they want to develop a career or work in a vocational field. Hire-Ability and other similar programs help their clients attain jobs where they can be both happy and productive. Employers benefit from employees who enjoy their work, but for the mentally ill, working has other important implications. A job provides independence and often leads to improvements in mood, allowing these individuals to become integrated members of society. Hopefully with the continued use of job-placement programs, mental illness will no longer be a barrier to employment opportunities.

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