Working with schizophrenia: No one should be written off
Authors: Paul Farmer
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
13 February 2013
People with schizophrenia have one of the lowest employment rates among all disadvantaged groups; only 8% against a national rate of 71%. But many people with schizophrenia tell us that they want to work and with the right support in place they can.
Recent research by The Work Foundation, published this week (Mon 11), highlights the many barriers that people diagnosed with schizophrenia face. Today, far too few are able to get, and stay, in work. It also reveals how vital work can be in helping people to manage their condition. Research shows that those in work are over five times more likely to be able to live independently. Schizophrenia is one of the most stigmatised of all mental health conditions. We helped the Work Foundation throughout this research because we think that by raising awareness of people's experience of schizophrenia, we can address some of the misunderstandings and stigma that exist.
The key findings deepen and build on much that we already know, for example that talking about mental health problems can help break down stigma, as we are doing through our Time to Change campaign with Rethink Mental Illness. It also shows that society's low expectations have a chilling effect on the aspirations that employers and healthcare professionals have. As a psychologist interviewed for the report says, "There is a general belief that 'people with schizophrenia are not able to do things very well' that 'they will fail.'"
Many health professionals believe that people with schizophrenia would be better suited to low-skilled and low-responsibility work. These attitudes have meant that work, and its role in a person’s recovery, is not given priority, and may not even be considered by some health-care teams. Yet people interviewed were highly motivated to work -they told researchers how important a job is to both manage their condition and lead fulfilling lives.
Employer attitudes create even more barriers. The research shows that employers are not sure how best to support people and that some have concerns about the time it may take to manage someone with schizophrenia. These findings chime with what we know from our work with employers - they are often unsure of how best to support people or where to go for information.
But the findings also support the positive approach that we promote through our campaign for mentally healthy workplaces. We know that in-work support is key to keeping people in work. We also know that when employers have the confidence to support their employees, both tend to have a positive experience.
Employers need the right policies and culture in place and this is what our campaign helps employers to achieve. We help employers to manage and support the mental health of their staff and we're confident that, with a good strategy in place, employers can support all people in the workplace - including staff who are experiencing mental health problems from stress to depression or schizophrenia.
The authors argue that with better coordinated support, increased understanding of the condition and the acknowledgement of the importance of work for recovery, larger numbers of people with schizophrenia could get, and stay, in work. But this doesn't take account of the context and impact of the Government's welfare and employment law reforms which we know all too well are in fact making it much harder, not easier, for people with mental health problems to get back into work.
Under the coalition government there has been a systematic dismantling of people's rights in the workplace, and this will have a disproportionate impact on people with mental health problems. The Beecroft / Red Tape Challenge agenda has seen the introduction of fees for employment tribunals to pursue an unfair dismissal claim, massive cuts to legal aid, the extension of the qualifying period for legal protection against unfair dismissal to two years in employment, and many other attacks on employee rights.
At the same time it's clear that the welfare system is worryingly unbalanced. The pressure is on individuals to find work, underestimating the barriers that people face like employer attitudes, limited access to support, and sometimes not even the right kind of support. People are pushed back into work through the threat of losing their benefit - which can often cause anxiety keeping them away from the workplace for longer. The research reveals that for people with schizophrenia the assessment process for disability benefit can be particularly stressful. We are campaigning hard to improve this system.
The journey back to work for all people with mental health problems needs to be much better supported. It's clear that we need a new approach that is more person-centred and aspirational. No one should ever be written off. Today, we're glad to hear the voice of The Work Foundation and others joining this chorus for change.
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