Finding and Succeeding at Employment With Schizophrenia

by Christina Bruni Patient Expert

October is Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Upwards of 70 percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia in a recent study expressed an interest in working at a job. I've been employed for over 25 years now and will focus this SharePost on practical ways to find and succeed at a job when you have this illness.

1. Obtain cognitive remediation and social skills training.

Individuals with schizophrenia who haven't worked before are thought to be poor
judges of their ability to perform the duties of a job. Getting this training can help you set goals and achieve them so that you can get ready for employment.

2. Consider finding supported employment.

This is where a job coach interacts with you so that you can succeed at work. They don't step in to do your job when you can't; they meet with you to monitor how you're doing and provide feedback.

An agency like MHA Riverside in New York City used to provide job coaches. Check with your local NAMI or MHA or other community mental health agency to see if they offer job coaches.

3. Investigate if your state has a vocational rehab agency for individuals with disabilities.

OVR in New York sent me to clerical training in fall 1989 and in August 1990 I obtained my first job as an administrative assistant.

4. Employ a therapist or social worker who does life coaching.

I was fortunate to meet a therapist for five sessions. He gave me vocational assessment. That's how I decided to go back to school so I could become a public service librarian.

5. Use the career services department of your local public library.

At Brooklyn Public Library career services librarians create resumes. Your library might have a person who does this too.

Your library will also have books on the shelves on how to conduct a job search, how to write resumes, and possibly a directory of careers you can browse. Log on to MyNextMove to take a free career quiz to help you find out what jobs you might be good at and like doing.

6. Obtain a ticket to work via the Ticket to Work Act to help you get employment assistance.

Create a PASS plan and a tax-free savings account to help you pay for supplies and education geared to helping you find and keep a job.

7. Refrain from disclosing your diagnosis unless it's absolutely necessary.

I and Robin Cunningham, a friend with schizophrenia who rose up to become the CEO of corporations, believe that if you can do your job as well or better than your coworkers, your diagnosis is no one's business.

The ADA Act does allow an employer to make reasonable accommodations to a person with a disability. However the accommodation cannot create an undue hardship on the operation of the business.

You ask for an accommodation at the point you need one, yet shouldn't wait until you're in dire straits. If you want to disclose, do so after you've been made a job offer, not on the interview or before you get an offer. Tell HR or your supervisor. You don't have to tell co-workers. The AskJan website lists typical accommodations you can make.

8. Talk to a therapist or join a support group to get feedback on your experiences.

A riskier alternative is to use your intuition or your gut instinct to determine which coworker you can talk to about any pressure you have. Yet refrain from serenading everyone at the job with negative impressions of either what's going on or of other coworkers. You don't want to give the impression that you can't handle your duties.

9. Remember: what you do on the job contributes to the bottom line of the company.

Focus on improving sales, enhancing customer experiences, or whatever it is that you're supposed to do as part of your job. And keep your eyes on the prize: your own job. There will always be a supervisor who allows a coworker to be rude to patrons. There will always be a coworker who is rude to you or tries to push your buttons, whether intentionally or not.

10. Have a social life outside of your place of employment.

Doing exercise or engaging in physical activity as often as you can could give you what I call "emotional spine." You'll develop backbone and hopefully what happens on the job will not seep into your private life. Get a pedicure, see a movie: you get the picture.

Vital employment takeaways:

Your first job is not often the only job. Most people change jobs six or seven times, or like I did switch careers down the road.

Consider doing volunteer work to list on a resume if you haven't worked before or have a gap in employment. Nearly half of employers respond favorably when a person lists volunteer work on a resume. Log on to Idealist to find volunteer or paid positions in non-profits.

Christina Bruni
Meet Our Writer
Christina Bruni

Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.