Thinking About Work
Is work possible for people with mental illness?
Many people who have experienced serious psychiatric symptoms and related treatments wonder if work is possible for them. Work is not only possible for most, if not all, people with psychiatric disabilities, but work can support recovery and can hold an important role in our lives. As Paolo DelVecchio has said, “Work provides meaning in life and a life of meaning. (Del Vecchio, SAMHSA). Decades of research show that people who have been diagnosed with psychiatric conditions can and do have productive lives in communities of their choice. Going all the way back to the late 1800’s, actually, as in the Worcester State Hosp study, researchers found that great numbers of people were in recovery and lived well in their communities for the rest of their lives once released from the hospital.
People who have experienced mental illnesses have held positions of all kinds and at all levels, from the Presidency of the United States, i.e., President Abraham Lincoln, who was said to experience depression or bipolar disorder, to high profile acting positions, for example, Carrie Fisher (who played Princess Leia), to everyday positions at all levels, including professional and managerial careers. Much research and development has occurred in recent decades to understand how to support people to have, and be successful in, employment.
Efforts to understand and spread the word about recovery include The President’s New Freedom Commission, and to develop employment service models that can effectively support people in work (Choose-Get-Keep Model,, Supported Employment, Employment Intervention Demonstration Program study). We are still learning about how to best support people in work, and still have far to go. But have no doubt – people diagnosed with psychiatric conditions can and do work.