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80% Of Adults With Mental Illness Are Unemployed: Does Mental Health Still Take A Back Seat To Physical Health?

mental illness
People suffering from a mental illness are not receiving the proper assistance to find and maintain jobs, according to a new report. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

People struggling with mental health issues are likely to suffer quite the disadvantage in the workplace, according to a new study.

The new report out of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 80 percent of adults with serious mental health issues are unemployed, despite 60 percent of them wanting to work and 40 percent having the potential to succeed if given the proper assistance. The researchers attributed these statistics to the possibility that many individuals with mental illness are unable to maintain homes, end up in jail, or quite simply don’t receive the proper care and aid to get their feet on the ground.

“It’s not surprising,” Sita Diehl, director of state policy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told The Washington Post. “We knew that mental health services really took it on the chin during the recession. Employment rates have already been dismal to begin with, and when the supports were eroded, people with mental illness lost support and lost jobs.”

Mary Giliberti, the executive director of NAMI, says that a lot could be improved if certain mental health resources and solutions were utilized. “These statistics paint a pretty bleak picture,” she told USA Today. “We think we can do a lot better.” One of these resources is a program known as supported employment, in which a mentally ill individual receives guidance to work. The program costs about $4,000 per person. However, fewer than 2 percent of people in the public mental health system receive this help, mostly because gathering the funds for it is difficult.

It’s clear that people with mental health issues would benefit from employment; having a job could give them a sense of purpose and boost self-esteem. Giliberti believes that it’s better to spend $4,000 on supported employment than to deal with the even more expensive consequences later: “Work is critical to identity, to dignity, to who you are,” she told USA Today. “When we are funding work, we are decreasing the cost of future treatment.”

Mental Health vs. Physical Health Care

Is it true that mental health in the U.S. is simply not receiving as much attention as it should be? Back in 2013, former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that with the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act, the U.S. had made “historic advances in ensuring that mental illness is treated the same as any other illness.” The Mental Health Parity act highlighted the fact that mental health had historically not received as much attention or been valued as much as it should be in America, and Obamacare plans to change that.

The rate of disabled people who were unemployed was at 13.4 percent in 2012, compared to the 7.9 percent rate of unemployment among people who aren’t disabled, according to a Labor Department report. But it’s still the mentally ill whose unemployment rates are the highest, possibly because there isn’t as much stigma placed on physically disabled people as much as there is placed on individuals suffering from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, or depression. USA Today reports that a 2006 survey found that 62 percent of Americans were unwilling to work with someone with schizophrenia.

However, the mental health parity law as well as new insurance options under the Affordable Care Act will provide new opportunities for the mentally ill to keep their mental health benefits without having to remain on Social Security programs. This might offer a better chance for individuals to work full-time jobs without losing their benefits.

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