Employment Barriers for Persons With Psychiatric Disabilities: Update of a Report for the President's Commission

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A major public policy problem is the extremely low labor force participation of people with severe mental illness coupled with their overrepresentation on the public disability rolls. This situation is especially troubling given the existence of evidence-based practices designed to return them to the labor force. This article reviews research from the fields of disability, economics, health care, and labor studies to describe the nature of barriers to paid work and economic security for people with disabling mental disorders. These barriers include low educational attainment, unfavorable labor market dynamics, low productivity, lack of appropriate vocational and clinical services, labor force discrimination, failure of protective legislation, work disincentives caused by state and federal policies, poverty-level income, linkage of health care access to disability beneficiary status, and ineffective work incentive programs. The article concludes with a discussion of current policy initiatives in health care, mental health, and disability. Recommendations for a comprehensive system of services and supports to address multiple barriers are presented. These include access to affordable health care, including mental health treatment and prescription drug coverage; integrated clinical and vocational services; safe and stable housing that is not threatened by changes in earned income; remedial and postsecondary education and vocational training; benefits counseling and financial literacy education; economic security through asset development; legal aid for dealing with employment discrimination; peer support and self-help to enhance vocational self-image and encourage labor force attachment; and active involvement of U.S. business and employer communities.

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