Many people with mental illness are successfully employed. In fact, throughout history there are examples of individuals with mental illness who have had extraordinary careers, despite their suffering. Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Jane Pauley, Brian Wilson, Patty Duke, Scott Joplin, to name a few. The list is long.
Unfortunately, the employment statistics for people with mental illness are discouraging: Only one in five is employed, and the number is lower yet for those with the schizophrenia diagnosis. Stigma and discrimination are often barriers to getting a job.
There is currently a movement afoot through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to include work requirements for non-disabled Medicaid enrollees. While states may exempt some vulnerable people from such work requirements, many people with mental illness will fall through the cracks. Plus, studies already show that such requirements do not lead to long-term, stable employment — but they do result in substantial costs and red tape to enforce them.
It is important to understand that most people who live with mental illness want to work and could work with the proper support. To address this critical problem, University Circle’s Magnolia Clubhouse helps men and women with mental illness find jobs (and keep them) through an employment program that is research-proven to be effective. By working closely with our members, we provide each with the support that he or she may need to succeed, from learning interviewing skills to on-the-job troubleshooting, depending on the individual.
One of more than 300 clubhouses worldwide, Magnolia Clubhouse is based on a comprehensive model of psychiatric rehabilitation that deems both work and relationships key to improved mental health. Here, our members are engaged in meaningful work — together with staff, they operate the clubhouse. When members regain their confidence and sense of well-being, we help those desiring employment to enter (or re-enter) the workforce.
If the resources used for the enforcement of a mandate could be redirected to create employment programs proven to be effective, so many more adults who live with mental illness could join the workforce. Studies show that people with mental illness who find competitive jobs have a better quality of life, fewer symptoms, and lower mental health care costs. In sum, the value of supported employment programs, like those offered by clubhouses around the world, is enormous.
Why cut off Medicaid for people who live with mental illness? It will not help them get or keep a job. It certainly will not improve their mental health. This vulnerable (and underserved) population deserves to be given opportunities, not penalized.
There is a better option for society and for our community — investing in employment programs that work to help men and women attain independence and achieve their full potential. At Magnolia Clubhouse, we are privileged to see so many of our members succeed in their jobs and thrive every day.
D’Angelo is executive director of Magnolia Clubhouse in University Circle.