Graeme: managing an employee with schizophrenia
Schizophrenia and the Workplace
What are the biggest obstacles for a person with schizophrenia who wants to join the workforce?
By Connie Brichford
Medically Reviewed by Kevin O. Hwang, MD, MPH
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Of the roughly 2 million Americans with schizophrenia, it is estimated that only 10 to 27 percent are in the workforce. But a 2008 survey of those living with schizophrenia found that 76 percent of respondents said they thought having a job would improve their lives. For those people, significant barriers stand in the way.
Schizophrenia and Work: Is It Possible?
Whether a person with schizophrenia can work depends upon the severity of the illness and the nature of the symptoms. Studies have found that positive symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, are less of a barrier to employment than negative symptoms and cognitive deficits. Negative symptoms are the absence, or reduced level, of mental processes that should occur normally, such as the ability to make plans, enjoy pleasurable activities, and interact with other people socially. Cognitive deficits are problems with planning and organizing, remembering things, and paying attention.
Frank Baron, who lives with schizophrenia, has not returned to regular employment since his diagnosis, although he is active. "In my case, medications stop the delusions but they do not manage the cognitive deficits," he says. Baron says the cognitive issues prevent him from working: "Before, I was a civil engineer, but now I don't have the concentration." Baron serves on the Institutional Review Board for the Los Angeles County Mental Health Commission and does public speaking on mental illness issues.
Schizophrenia and Work: Which Jobs Are Best?
Schizophrenia does not predispose people to a specific type of work. The right job for a person with schizophrenia depends upon the severity of the illness and on a person's skills and interests. A few people with schizophrenia have been very successful professionally: Fred Frese earned his doctorate in psychology after a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and Elyn Saks earned a law degree after her diagnosis and is a professor of law at the University of Southern California.
But Baron notes, "Like they say on TV, 'results not typical.' " Most people with schizophrenia work in entry-level and part-time positions, and only about 30 percent of working people with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia have been promoted from entry-level positions.
Schizophrenia and Work: Health Benefits
Health insurance and other benefits are an important issue for people with schizophrenia to consider when choosing a job, and even when deciding how many hours to work. While increasing one's income seems appealing, the reality for people with schizophrenia is a bit more complicated. The entry-level positions that people with schizophrenia most often obtain rarely include benefits.
People who rely on Medicaid may have to limit paid work hours so as not to jeopardize their health benefits. A benefits counselor can help sort out the regulations that surround Medicaid and Social Security benefits, and help people make the right decision about how many hours they can work.
Schizophrenia and Work: Other Challenges and Solutions
A person with schizophrenia faces several challenges when seeking employment. It can be difficult to explain gaps in a resume to a potential employer without revealing your mental illness status, and discrimination against people with mental illness still exists.
On an individual level, Baron says that supported employment programs help some people with their quest for meaningful work. Supported employment programs help people with psychiatric disabilities prepare for, find, and maintain competitive employment.
This is especially important because schizophrenia tends to appear around young adulthood just as people are entering the workforce; people with schizophrenia may not have much work or job-search experience before diagnosis. Supported employment programs help with job searches and pre-employment training, and continue to provide services to help people with schizophrenia succeed in their jobs.
Video: Schizophrenia- Can I Work? ❓❓❓
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