Employment and recovery go hand-in-hand for people living with severe, persistent mental illness, but social stigmas create an entry barrier for jobseekers.
That is where the state-funded Chrysalis center in Dane County looks to help, connecting motivated participants to resources at every step of the employment process.
According to a recent report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the unemployment rate among those with mental illnesses has climbed from 77 percent in 2003 to more than 82 percent today.
Finding a job for those with mental illness is particularly difficult, NAMI advocacy coordinator Annabelle Potvin said, adding that of the 70 percent of people with a mental illness looking for work nationally, only 20 percent are employed.
“The problem of stigma and discrimination is huge,” Potvin said. “Something is going on where people are trying to find work and they’re not able to. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it is more difficult when you’re dealing with a mental illness to try to find work and some of it has to do with stigma.”
Chrysalis utilizes the Individual Placement and Support model, which helps both place and treat those seeking employment, Chrysalis Executive Director Dani Rischall said. As a result, all of their employment services come from a larger mental health treatment array and all of their referrals come from other community mental health teams, she said.
There more than 60 people in Chrysalis’s IPS program, and the majority of patients have been diagnosed with either schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. Participation in the program is voluntary, so those who are in program tend to be highly motivated, Rischall said.
“When we go out and meet employers a big plug is that we’re finding employees for them that would like to stay there for a while,” Rischall said. “A lot of the places see a lot of turnover, so we try to help prevent that as much as possible.”
The process of finding which jobs are the best fit is based on individual preferences. Someone is going to be a lot more successful in a job if they are doing something they like, so Chrysalis prioritizes finding a job and employment environment that the individual will enjoy, Rischall said.
The amount of support Chrysalis provides is also dependent on individual preference.
“Some people might want support from Chrysalis but don’t want to disclose that they have a mental illness, so in that case, we might take a backseat to the kind of support that they’re getting and help them with mock interviews and resume writing and things like that,” Rischall said. “And other people want as much support as we can provide so that’s us going out and talking with employers and trying to find the best fit.”
Last year, Chrysalis had 25 new hires, and it’s already on track to exceed that number, with new employees working in various jobs like in grocery stores, cleaning positions, fast food places, floral places, department stores, catering and auto mechanics, Rischall said.
Potvin said having a job is a big step toward mental health recovery.
“Employment is a huge part of who we are. … So it’s a huge factor in recovery because if people are working then they have greater self-confidence, they have higher self-esteem, they’re socializing,” Potvin said. “They’re building their networks, they’re getting out in the community and they’re feeling like they’re more a part of things. We used to see recovery from mental illness as the absence of symptoms, and now we know that it’s much bigger than that.”