Major mental illnesses account for 4 out of 10 leading causes for disability with depression being the number one cause. Disabled workers and families pull in 16.1% of the Social Security payments in any given month or 7.6 million recipients of SS are the disabled who often are disabled by a mental illness. With payouts in 2004 of $487 billion dollars; with current concerns about the viability of SS for the long term; with an unemployment rate of about 90% for those with major mental illness; with a strong desire to work as reported by many in the field; it makes sense to look for other options besides a SS Disability check each month. Supported employment is one of the best options out there.
Let an example illustrate. In Minneapolis, a non-profit agency called Tasks Unlimited has provided employment services for those with serious and persistent mental illness for over 25 years. They currently serve about 175 clients half of whom work full-time with a growing contingent all the time. If these 90 persons were institutionalized the cost would be at conservative numbers $9 million a year. Instead, through supported employment, they are costing taxpayers about $90,000 a year or 1% of the institutional costs. On top of this, they are paying taxes.
Clients at Tasks Unlimited report high levels of satisfaction with their jobs and lives and are almost hospital-free. In addition to the job, Tasks offers housing, rec programs, an in-house pyschiatrist, and many other amenities designed to improve the conditions of those with major mental illness.
Yet Tasks Unlimited runs into major opposition when it has tried to replicate similar programs around the country. Most opposition seems to come from the idea that either the mentally ill can’t work or that they should work like everyone else, both ideas that Tasks has blown out of the water.
Tasks has found that through a powerful medium of peer support and the addition of a job coach, that this population can indeed have success with employment. What it has done is to level the playing field for those with the illness to a reasonable level where despite devastating illness in many cases, the people can still work and be productive. It’s pretty powerful when your co-worker understands rather than ostracizes you which is what happens so often without the support there.
So, financially, supported employment is a win-win. The workers end up with more money and satisfaction in life and society is relieved of a big burden. There is just no excuse for not taking supported employment forward in this new century.