How can we better support people living with schizophrenia to enter or return to the workplace?
15 November 2012
The Schizophrenia Commission Report published yesterday (14 November) gives valuable insights into the state of the UK’s mental health services, and recommendations for improving recovery outcomes for people living with schizophrenia. Importantly, the report gives hope to those living with the condition that - with the right support – recovery is a realistic possibility.
For many people with lived experience work is a crucial part of feeling like one has made a full recovery. Work is important, not only because it makes it possible to gain financial independence, but also because it helps those living with the condition feel they are back to normal health. It is a known fact that paid work is good for mental health and improves clinical outcomes. Moreover, employment specialists and health care professionals see employment as a very realistic outcome for people with schizophrenia. Many seem to hold the view that no particular type of work is unsuitable. On the contrary, it depends on each individual’s skills and training and what type of job they would be successful at doing.
Despite the desire of many people living with the condition to return to work, and experts encouraging views, the employment rate of people with schizophrenia is lower than it is for any other chronic condition which is not life-threatening. For example, the Commission’s report shows that the employment rate for people living with schizophrenia is as low as 5%-15%.
People with schizophrenia, and other severe mental health disorders, face discrimination - especially in work life. Employers’ negative attitudes, and sometimes their inability to see behind the illness, are the main barriers which keep employment rates so low.
Research shows that job retention is difficult for people with schizophrenia. This could partly be due to the fluctuating nature of the illness, but all too often people with the illness are not even given a chance. Access to the labour market seems to be the main problem, especially as people seem to struggle to get a job that matches their skills and education which may have gaps It is here that negative attitudes are the biggest barrier. The Commission report calls for action to address negative attitudes, which is a challenging task, especially as schizophrenia is surrounded by a significant amount of stigma.
Often, those with the best understanding and positive perception of schizophrenia are the friends or relatives of loved ones living with the condition. Yet, one of the many obstacles to reducing stigma is the lack of positive stories in the media about schizophrenia. Specifically, we need to hear success stories about individuals with schizophrenia in work. These positive stories should explore how individuals have been supported into work and what made it possible for them to remain in work.
At The Work Foundation we are undertaking research which outlines how healthcare professionals and employers can better support people living with schizophrenia into, or back to, work. Our report will be an important step towards better employment opportunities for people living with the condition, and we look forward to publishing the results in the near future.