I stumbled on to this quite by accident---but for those who read this blog---you know I love my causes. This one hits very close to home for me. In the eyes of my psychiatrist and other doctors, therapists, and even many coworkers, I am considered disabled due to the Bipolar Disorder. I, on the other hand, consider myself to be very able.
I am a contributing member of society. I matter. I work part time. Plus I do tons of volunteer work. I own my own home--well me and the finance company for now. I own two vehicles. I pay taxes. I'm an active member in several mental health consumer groups---NAMI for starters. For those who don't know, that is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. I'm also a member of AL-APSE---the Alabama chapter of the Association for Persons in Supportive Employment...APSE. I even served on the board for awhile. Plus I taught workshops at the state and national levels. APSE is the professional organization for those working in the vocational rehab field, as well as consumers and families. Which means I'm involved in getting those people who are considered disabled back to work. That not only means those with a severe mental illness but also physical and developmental disabilities. The following is the basis of what supportive employment means:
Best Practice in Supported EmploymentNow many people who are considered disabled rely on living off social security disability payments. That is all well and good. But if you ask most all consumers---they would rather be working. Not all of them are capable of working. Especially those who suffer with a severe mental illness. The medications interfere with the way they are able to function. As so many of my fellow consumers will tell you---sometimes the "cure" is worse than the disease.
People with disabilities seeking community integrated competitive employment refer to themselves as customers. They want and need the assistance of a professional to obtain and maintain competitive employment. However, what they are demanding is for supported employment services to be developed, marketed, and delivered based upon what would best fit the customer's needs, rather than what is convenient to the existing service system.
There are nine best practices that are encompassed in a customer-driven approach to supported employment. Central to the concept is the idea that the customer is in control of the process. The role of the employment specialist is to assist the customer in reaching his or her career goals. The best practices form the foundation for the customer-driven approach to supported employment.
Because the family is so important both in assisting the customer with employment as well as being a tremendous resource of support options that may be available, including them in the supported employment process and encouraging their involvement are crucial.
The entire reason for me contributing this post to this cause boils down to one simple word. It's a big one.......STIGMA. I see it everyday. Others with disabilities---physical and developmental...I do not wish to offend you, but in my experience, those suffering from a severe mental illness have a significantly more difficult time in obtaining and maintaining employment. All because of the stigma associated with having such a diagnosis. When approaching potential employers on their own, with out the aide of vocational rehab, many consumers will not share their medical history for fear of not getting the job. A fellow blogger---Bipolar Wellness Writer, Susan Bernard--- had a very enlightening post about this very thing. She actually did a whole series of posts about working, you need to really check them all out.
My experience, in working with consumers, is employers who are aware of the illness are immediately on guard. Some are even scared to hire someone once their diagnosis is revealed. I personally had difficulties in obtaining a job. When I was first diagnosed, I was not stable enough to return to work in the nursing field but I wanted to do something---anything---I was tired of just getting by. It is extremely difficult to live on a fixed income. I applied for a job in numerous places---even at McDonald's. But many wouldn't even talk to me. Here I was 40 years old---had been a nurse for nearly 20 years and wanted just a small little minimum wage job. But I was repeatedly turned down. I eventually found a part time job within the mental health field. I have been with the same company for the past 5 years and my job has developed over time as I became more stable. I now have a position that utilizes my degree.
I firmly believe that everyone deserves a chance to do something with their life---whether it be volunteer work, self-employment, full-time job, part time job, school,....whatever. We are an overlooked population. But we refuse to be invisible any more.......
I want to thank the following people for bringing this cause to my attention----The Goldfish at Diary of a Goldfish----Lady Bracknell at The Perorations of Lady Bracknell
These are two wonderful bloggers......check them out and spread the word.....................