Schizophrenia and work - we need better support for those who can, but also for those who can’t
Authors: Paul Jenkins
Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness
11 February 2013
Schizophrenia doesn’t get a lot of public attention and when it does, it's sadly often related to violence and risk, so it’s refreshing to see The Work Foundation highlighting the important issue of employment for people with schizophrenia with the launch of their report today.
People with mental illness have the highest ‘want to work’ rate of any disability group, but only 8% of people with schizophrenia are currently working. As this report shows, it doesn’t have to be like this. In other countries, employment rates for people with schizophrenia are far higher and it’s a scandal that people aren’t getting the support they need to find and keep a job in this country. While it’s fantastic to see the progress that’s been made on employment rates for people with depression and anxiety, sadly other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia still lag far behind.
The findings of Working with Schizophrenia echo those of The Schizophrenia Commission which noted that only one in four mental health trusts are helping people find jobs using proven methods such as Individual Placement and Support. Under this approach, people get real-life training in the workplace as well as specialist support. We need to see much more emphasis on schemes like this. We must be more ambitious for people with severe mental illness, many of whom can and do hold down demanding jobs.
Perhaps the biggest barrier of all facing people with schizophrenia trying to get into jobs is stigma. Many employers wrongly believe people with schizophrenia simply aren’t capable of working and that violence is a symptom of the illness. Some people are so worried about discrimination that they hide their condition from their employer and therefore lose out on the support or adjustments they need. We need to see a fundamental shift in attitudes across society, which is why the work of the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, which we at Rethink Mental Illness run with Mind, is so vital.
For many people with a mental illness, work is central to staying well and as this report highlights, it can play an important role in ensuring people feel connected to and valued by society. However, it’s also important to remember that for some people, full-time paid work is simply not possible, and they must be supported too.
I’m glad to see the report recognises how unfair aspects of the benefits system are, and in particular, the Work Capability Assessment. This process is set up in a way which disadvantages people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. This means many ill and vulnerable people are wrongly being found fit for work and are losing out on vital support.
Another concern is that some people with schizophrenia are being put on the Work Programme, but aren’t being given any kind of specialist support. Our advice service hears daily from people who say they’re being given employment support from people who have no understanding at all of mental illness. This simply isn't good enough. Work Programme staff need specialist mental health training if they're to provide appropriate and relevant help.
What I’m interested in, and what our members want to see, is a proper safety net for those who cannot work, specialist help for those who are unemployed but have the potential to re-enter the workplace and better understanding from employers of how they can support people with schizophrenia. Only with all these things in place will people with schizophrenia and society reach its full potential.
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