May is Mental Health Month, and although it is drawing to a close, it’s always worth considering the important role that mental health plays in our overall well-being. Mental Health Month is also reminder for us to consider ways to ensure people with mental illness receive the support they need to succeed in, or prepare for, employment.
Doing so is vitally important. One in four adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness, including depression, and those illnesses often manifest at a young age: more than 50 percent before age 14, and 75 percent before age 24. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of children with mental illness receive appropriate treatment and support, negatively impacting their success in school, and, in turn, employment.
One of the biggest barriers to treatment — for both youth and adults — is a stigma which often erroneously equates mental illness with violence, despite research indicating that only 3-5 percent of violent acts are attributed to people with mental illness. In fact, people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.
That’s the bad news. But there is good news too, and public awareness efforts like Mental Health Month are help to spread it. With increased education, we as a nation can erase the stigma associated with mental illness, and, in so doing, help the people affected by it get the support they need.
Every day, people with mental illness contribute considerable skills and talents to America’s workforce. Just a few examples include Matthew Staton, a veteran with a Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who today continues to serve his country in a civilian capacity; Anupa Iyer, an attorney whose personal experiences with mental illness led to a career in disability law and advocacy; and Louise Thundercloud, a home health aide with multiple non-evident disabilities.
For people like Matthew, Anupa and Louise — and so many others — work actually plays an important role in staying healthy. That’s because employment is a key social determinant of health and increases one’s ability to live a satisfying, meaningful life. Of course, it also increases financial self-sufficiency. For these reasons, the Office of Disability Employment Policy educates about workplace policies and practices strategies, such as effective accommodations and flexible work arrangements, that can help today’s employees with mental illness succeed on the job — and tomorrow’s as well.
As part of this, in collaboration with its youth technical assistance center, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, ODEP developed “Guideposts for Success for Youth with Mental Health Needs” and “Transitioning Youth with Mental Health Needs to Meaningful Employment and Independent Living.” Together with ODEP’s other youth-focused resources, these publications can help families, educators and youth service providers promote positive transition outcomes and convey high expectations regarding employment for youth with mental illness — every month of the year.
Rhonda Basha is the leader of ODEP’s Youth Policy Team.