Work or other meaningful activity is an essential component of recovery. That’s why I applaud the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) for focusing on mental health in the workplace on World Mental Health Day, October 10, 2017. In conjunction with the event, the WFMH released a comprehensive report looking at the issue from the perspective of workers, employers, and the world economy. Supporting people in entering or remaining in the workforce boosts the economy and reduces societal costs, and helps people maintain recovery.
Most people who experience mental illness can work, and with the right supports in place, they can succeed. Millions of people in recovery are already in the workforce. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.5 percent of full-time working adults and 22 percent of part-time working adults experienced a mental illness in the past year.
Artist and teacher Alice Evans recently wrote a moving account of her experiences in the workplace and how they aided in her path of recovery from schizoaffective disorder. She credits an employer who was patient with her and helped her find the right job at his restaurant. She recalls that his “kindness taught me more about work than the actual work I did there, and it is something that has continued to sustain me. I realize now that he could see my potential. Not as an employee [but] as a person.” Other people in recovery are looking for someone like Alice’s former boss to see their potential.
To see more people succeed the way Alice has, we must continue to support both employees and employers. Despite a substantial evidence base for supported employment, these services are still not widely available. That’s why SAMHSA promotes Supported Employment, an evidence-based practice in which a service provider steps in to provide needed support both before and after job placement. States that have received SAMHSA’s Transforming Lives Through Supported Employment Grants are helping people overcome significant barriers such as criminal justice involvement and living in economically depressed regions.