Myths: Mental Illness and Job Searching

Claudia In my 3 years as a Disability Navigator I have had the opportunity to work with job seekers, employers, and staff members. Along the way, I have encountered a number of people with questions regarding mental illness and job readiness. It is the wise person who asks if what they have “heard” is, in truth, a fact or a myth. Today, I would like to be a “myth buster” and share some information with you regarding mental illness.

MYTH: Mental illness is rare.
FACT: According to the National Association of Mental Illness, mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. In any given year, more than five million Americans experience an acute episode of mental illness. One in every five families is affected in their lifetime by a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression.

MYTH: People with mental illness get worse, not better.
FACT:  The course of severe mental illness over an extended period of time is not necessarily just staying the same or getting worse. The treatment success rate for schizophrenia is 60%, 65% for major depression, and 80% for bipolar disorder. With time, resources, ongoing intervention, and enough support, an individual can reach significant employment outcomes.

MYTH: If someone’s mental illness is not under control, they are not job ready.
FACT: Individuals with complex needs, including psychiatric disabilities, have often been labeled as not job ready. However, individuals with similar needs can be found working successfully in the community. Waiting for all disability-related issues to be under control may mean that the customer is never judged to be ready. Job readiness really happens when the skills, interests, values, and needs of a person are matched with the demands of a specific job and the values and needs of a particular employer. (Marrone, Gandolfo, Gold, Hoff, 1998). Job readiness is a dynamic, not a static, concept.

MYTH: A person with a mental illness should only work at low stress jobs that require no interpersonal contact.
FACT: While mental illness can cause problems in interpersonal relations, each person’s strengths and deficits are different, as are each jobs requirement. Rather than broadly generalizing about personal barriers, it is best to help job seekers with mental illness understand their own capabilities and how those capabilities fit into a specific job match.

These are some of the most common myths I have encountered in my position. A myth has no power if it is addressed with the truth, so I encourage you to ask the person or a reliable source familiar with mental illness if you have any questions. As these myths are dispelled, everyone is empowered.

Claudia Magallan is the Disability Navigator for Workforce Solutions Workforce Solutions- Gulf Coast ensuring that customers with disabilities utilize all the services offered by Workforce Solutions. She has over 5 years of experience building relationships in the Houston Community and working with job seekers with barriers to employment.

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