Authors: Pat McLeod, SA
Event: 2002 TheMHS Conference
Subject: Rehabilitation And Recovery, Employment & Recovery, book of proceedings
Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers
Abstract: While unemployment rates remain high among people with a psychiatric disability, an increased focus on rehabilitation in the last two decades has resulted in increasing numbers of mental health service consumers who gain award wage employment. There is much to learn about factors contributing to success in the maintenance of employment and very little existing research involves direct participation by employees with a psychiatric disability (particularly those who are not involved with supported employment agencies and who may or may not have chosen to disclose their disability in the workplace).
This paper presents very early findings from a qualitative study, in which former clients of a vocational rehabilitation agency, who have a psychiatric disability, were asked about their employment experience. Participants were invited to talk about their interactions with workplace peers and supervisors, their working conditions and decisions about disclosure, and were asked to indicate ‘what helps’ in terms of staying in their particular job. Most participants appear to have no expectation of employer support to assist their job retention, rather focussing on what it took to ‘fit in’ at work. Most worked part-time and many had casual employment. This appears to result in a conscious and ongoing trade off between lower income and maintaining health and access to supports. None or very limited disclosure appeared to be the most common choice, based on a strong expectation of stigma. Most participants reporting ongoing access to their doctor or mental health services as critical support in maintaining health and thus employability, while the rehabilitation program was valued as the bridge to gaining employment in providing emotional and practical support. The study has implications for mental health service delivery and inter-agency coordination in supporting employees. The study also suggests that access to employment may not be associated with disclosure of disability and thus may not lead to improved employer awareness of and support to workers with mental illness.