Strategies States Can Use to Employ Persons with Mental Illness
People with persistent and severe mental illnesses have a harder time securing and keeping a job, although studies have found that most would prefer to work if afforded the opportunity and certain incentives to do so. According to the 2000 Census, 14.3 million people in this country have mental illnesses. While not every member of this population is capable of holding a job, many could if provided with the proper supports. Moreover, this population is a crucial and essential addition to the workforce.i By providing treatment, supports, and employment services, many persons with mental illness can sustain employment, become more self-sufficient, contribute to society, and reduce funding in supportive services for states.
Mental illnesses are costly burdens for individuals, families, and states. In 1997 more than $70 billion was spent in the U.S. on treatment alone. State mental health agencies (SMHAs) directly controlled and allocated $16 billion of that total. Each year, states spend money on direct mental health care services such as prevention, assessment, and treatment. They also fund peripheral services for this population, such as providing programs for the homeless mentally ill and incarcerating people with mental illnesses.
States that have implemented plans to encourage and assist persons with mental illness to find and secure employment have reported decreases in supportive services costs and increases in collected tax revenues.
Successful state strategies include a number of options. For instance, states are tailoring assistance for at-risk populations, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients, by screening for mental illnesses, assessing conditions, and referring clients for treatment. This addresses mental disorders as factors that negatively impact the ability to work and are barriers to employment. States also are expanding existing vocational rehabilitation (VR) services to more adequately include those with mental illness, and they are expanding Medicaid provisions to include employment-related services. Furthermore, states have recognized that professional (physician) and nonprofessional (community) supports are valuable in aiding people with mental illness. To finance these innovative approaches, states are shifting existing resources and tapping available state and federal funding streams. (NGA)
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