Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Think About Work

How can I help my family member think about work?

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I motivate my family member to consider work?

Motivation is not a “thing” that you have or don’t have. Everyone is motivated for something – it might be freedom from anxiety or freedom from fear. It could be desire for travel. We are all different in terms of what we consider important. So families can gently suggest the idea of employment and be persistent (without nagging) about the possibilities. If the family member does not respond, see if they would consider an education or training approach.

You can expose your family member to information and to people such as mental health peers who know the employment world. Peers are persons in recovery who have achieved a certain level of quality in their lives and wish to help others. Peers can often reach people when no one else can. The authenticity of peers helping peers is a powerful support. “In self-help and mutual support, people offer this support, strength, and hope to their peers, which allows for personal growth, wellness promotion, and recovery.” (SAMHSA) If your family member is not receiving services in which peers are involved as vocational supporters, you could find out from the mental health service providers how your family member might get peer support, if your family member needs and wants this kind of support.

Are there potential risks to employment?

There is the risk that job might not be the right match and the person will feel the experience was a failure. It may be that the person was not sufficiently prepared for work and needs to re-evaluate what is needed to make it work or may experience some transitional or short term stress. For these reasons the Employment Specialist and the team of people who support the individual should try to identify those elements which are most likely to cause difficulties (in advance) and set up a plan to deal with them.

More importantly, there is serious risk is to unemployment. The longer the person is unemployed, the harder it is to get a job. Long term unemployment is associated with depression, poverty, substance abuse, feelings of worthlessness, self pity and despair. (Marrone & Golowka) In the case of long term unemployment it is likely that the person will not live a healthy lifestyle. Unemployment can also lead to isolation – the enemy of mental health.

What will happen to my family member’s benefits if they start to work?

There is no one answer to this question as there are many factors that determine what happens to SSI, SSDI, Veterans Benefits, Workmens Compensation, Health Benefits, etc. when a person starts working.

Answers depend on factors such as how long the employment lasted, how recently the employee may have been on SSI or SSDI, the reason for termination, or whether the employment was part time or full time. For example, if the employee was on SSI or SSDI just prior to working and then leaves a job, the employee can apply for expedited reinstatement of benefits without having to wait for a new application to be processed. If the employee became ill or injured on the job and the cause was work-related, Workmen’s Compensation might pay for medical costs and a portion of pay. However, as in many cases with benefits, all the details should be discussed with a Benefits Specialist to make sure correct information is obtained (SSA Red Book).

Understanding what happens to benefits/wages when someone works is critical and working with a Benefits Specialist is the best approach. The hope is that, with support, your family member will increase their income (from wages) whether or not they keep their cash benefits (SSI or SSDI). A recent study of 23,725 people with “severe mental illnesses” who received services from the state vocational rehabilitation agencies showed that their income from wages increased by 240% between application and the end of services. (Walls 2014)

For more information on benefits specialists, the impact of work on benefits, and maximizing income, please see the topics below.

What happens to benefits if my family member is self employed or has their own business?

The answer depends on several variables such as amount of taxable income, business expenditures, amount of deductions and other factors.

What should I know about Veteran's Benefits?

In the veteran’s systems the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) evaluates the extent of disability and whether the condition is service connected for calculating benefits. The VBA may look at whether or not the veteran is able to work for twelve consecutive months. As always, there are many rules & factors to consider in these calculations.

Similarly, numerous factors determine the impact of work on veterans’ benefits. We have developed a separate fact sheet to better describe what happens when veterans go to work.