Program Helps Those Living With Mental Illness Find and Retain Work

March 2nd, 2010
Patty Justice at her desk at work

“I have been working since I was 18,” says Patty Justice. “Work gives me a sense of purpose and the chance to put my best foot forward. When I was diagnosed as bipolar around my 40th birthday, I thought I would never work again. I thought my life was over.”

After her diagnosis, Patty received mental health counseling services at Southwest Counseling Solutions. Through therapy and medication, she embarked upon recovery and came to understand that she was not limited by her illness.

Two years ago, Patty entered the newly created Supported Employment program at Southwest Counseling. The program helps individuals recovering from mental illness find and retain employment.

“We are an evidence-based practice,” says Barbara Gray, who oversees the program. “We try to place our consumers in jobs that they will be interested in because the research clearly shows that employees last longer in jobs that engage their interests and skills.”

Patty was placed in a part-time position as a patient advocate at Community Care Services, which provides mental health and substance abuse services to individuals and families. Patty wanted to work in the mental health field because she felt that her own experiences would enable her to assist others with their struggles.

Patty enjoyed the work and was good at it, but not everything went smoothly in the workplace. She got into a conflict with a co-worker. Patty’s supervisor then called one of our employment specialists, who, along with Patty’s mental health counselor, came to her workplace to meet with the supervisor and Patty. The employment specialist and the counselor advised Patty about what she could do differently to resolve conflicts and improve relationships at work. This kind of intercession is part of the services that the Supported Employment program provides to consumers and employers.

“I was open to the advice and it was a valuable learning experience,” Patty says.

Not only did Patty correct the situation, she continued to excel at her work. Eventually, she was offered a full-time position as a certified peer support specialist.

“I am now self-sufficient,” says Patty. “And for the first time in my life, I am very comfortable in my skin.”

Over the past three years, the supportive employment program has placed about 100 individuals in jobs. Its employment specialists seek out job opportunities in the public and private sector. They educate prospective employers about the benefits of hiring individuals in the program.

“The major selling point of the program is the support services we provide to work through challenges that may arise,” says Patty’s employment specialist. “These services help build relationships and confidence.”

The individuals in our Supported Employment program range from high school dropouts to physicians. All are receiving mental health services at Southwest Counseling.

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