Work is a vitally important part of recovery for people with mental illness. That was the clear message at a June 25 public forum in Duluth that focused on an innovative approach to supporting people with mental illnesses as they move toward employment and economic self-sufficiency.
“It’s a hope machine,” one of the forum presenters said about the approach known as Individual Placement and Supports (IPS). Or, as another speaker said: “I love IPS. It’s my favorite model. When it was first rolled out, I was a little annoyed.… But I’m a convert, and I’m a zealot about it. And there’s no zealot like a convert.”
The IPS approach to supported employment turns on its head the old idea that work is too stressful to handle for people with mental illness. Instead, the IPS approach draws on extensive evidence that suggests people with mental illness not only can be successful at work if they choose, but also that employment can help them in their recovery process. The approach rests on principles that aim to integrate employment services with mental health treatment services, assure client choice and consumer preferences, achieve competitive employment and provide continuous, ongoing job supports.
The public forum featured individual speakers, a panel composed of IPS team members from northeastern Minnesota, and several individuals who told their own stories about how the IPS approach had change their lives.
One of the forum speakers, an IPS client with a long history of mental illness, described her “road to recovery” as being long and hard and characterized by a deep sense of failure. She was frequently in and out of hospitals for treatment and found it impossible to hold on to a job. But the IPS approach – working with a team of counselors, mental health professionals, job placement specialists, and others – helped her find a job. And that helped her regain a sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Perhaps most importantly, it helped her realize that she did not have to be defined by her diagnosis, that she no longer needed to allow her actions to be dictated by her symptoms.
“I am not a mental illness,” she declared. “I am a person with a mental illness.”
Then, in a statement that might serve as the theme for the day at the Duluth forum, the speaker said: “When a person with mental illness is employed, whether it’s full-time, part-time, or volunteer, your self-esteem goes up, your confidence goes up, and you get happy again. It’s a step to recovery. It might not be a recovery, but it’s a step to recovery.”
About 75 people attended the Duluth public forum, which was sponsored by the Minnesota State Rehabilitation Council and Vocational Rehabilitation Services. For more information about employment and mental illness, and about the IPS approach to supported employment, contact Sue Abderholden at NAMI Minnesota, 651-645-2948 or [email protected], or visit the website at www.namihelps.org