dpnavigator.net Icon  dpnavigator.net

 Disability Program Navigator: Navigator Frequently Asked Questions 

22(Basic/Advanced)  How can I guide One-Stop Career Center staff to work more effectively with individuals with mental health disabilities?

(DPN Bi-Weekly FAQs updated March 2009 )

Disability Program Navigators (DPN s) often relay that the most frequently asked questions they receive by One-Stop Career Center staff involve serving customers with mental health disabilities. It is highly likely that you are assisting a large number of customers with mental illness to navigate the workforce system and that employers are currently employing workers with mental health disabilities, whether they know it or not. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older - about one in four adults - have a diagnosable mental health disability, which translates to 57.7 million people. Mental illnesses are the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15 -44 .2 According to a 2007 study, 3 more than half of adults in the United States have a mental or physical condition that prevents them from conducting activities such as work for several days each year. “This research documents that the level of disability associated with chronic mental conditions is as large as that associated with many chronic physical conditions.” Further, according to the 2007 United States Census Bureau4, there were 23.6 million military veterans in the United States and of that number 6 million or 25 percent had disabilities. Veterans have priority in state hiring practices. Many are returning from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq and are experiencing post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and other mental and physical issues resulting from their tours of duty. This means that a significant portion of our population has mental illness, and that DPN s and One-Stop Career Center staff are most likely encountering numerous job-seekers with mental illness.

One-Stop Career Center staff who are unfamiliar with the facts may make false assumptions about customers with mental health disabilities, including that they are not ‘job ready’ or employable, or that the workforce system cannot adequately meet their needs. This may be because mental health disabilities are the most misunderstood of all disabilities or due to the overt stigma that is still attached to people with mental illness today. According to researchers in the field,5 these misconceptions in combination with the symptoms of the illnesses themselves contribute to the unemployment rate for individuals with mental illness estimated to be as high as 90 percent. But the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) guide, Recovery at Work: A Guide to Implementing Effective Employment Services for People with Psychiatric Disabilities, 6 relays the message that people who have mental illness want to work and that the ability to work and contribute to society is an integral part of recovery. Like everyone, people with mental illness have the potential to work in a variety of jobs and levels, depending on their abilities, experience, training, education, and motivation. That is why it is so important for you in your role as DPN to help educate staff on the facts, while also developing partnerships with local mental health agencies and programs. These collaborations can uncover valuable community resources that can support individuals with mental illness to successfully access the workforce system in gaining employment services.

Before reaching out to the mental health community or coordinating mental health awareness for staff, you may want to first learn about any misconceptions or questions that staff has about mental illness. Meanwhile, research the mental health agencies and programs in your region to learn about available support services offered in the community. Most local areas have a Department of Mental Health (DMH), chapters of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and affiliate networks of the National Mental Health Association, as well as a wide variety of other vocational, peer mentoring and independent living programs for individuals with mental illness. Outreaching to these agencies and programs will not only allow you to learn more about the resources available, it will provide you with the chance to educate the mental health community about the workforce system and create opportunities for collaboration. During this outreach, you may also meet with mental health professionals who will agree to provide training and awareness to One-Stop Career Center staff. Disability Program Navigators nationwide are guiding One-Stop Career Center staff to more effectively serve customers with mental illness and increasing collaboration between the mental health community and public workforce investment system. DPN s have coordinated with mental health vocational programs to hold their regular Job Clubs at the One-Stop Career Centers. DPN projects have also been instrumental in establishing interagency agreements with local mental health agencies to include a Mental Health Liaison in One-Stop Career Centers on a regular basis to assist staff in providing employment services to customers with mental health disabilities. DPN s are educating One-Stop staff on effective strategies to outreach to disabled Veterans and the programs that serve them to market the employment services and programs available to them through the One-Stop system. In addition, DPN s are serving as active members of mental health-focused committees representing the One-Stop Career Center system, while increasing the involvement of One-Stop Career Center staff in resource fairs and educational events targeted to people with mental illness.

* This is the verbatim language “ages and older” that appears in the text.

** Please note that the word ‘serious’ before mental illness has been added to accurately reflect the statement.

Note to DPN s: If you have comments, suggestions or questions relating to the above topic, please email DJ Diamond at ddiamond@ndi-inc.org. They may be added to this FAQs and the archived one on the One-Stop Toolkit website.


Mental Health America - http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/index.cfm
Mental Health America (formerly known as the National Mental Health Association) is a national nonprofit dedicated to helping ALL people live mentally healthier lives. Information is offered on the following topics: Mental Health FAQ, Crisis/Mental Health Emergencies, Fact Sheets on wide variety of Mental Illnesses, Prevention, Public Awareness Programs, and Advocacy Tools

  • Local and State affiliates: MHA has more than 320 affiliates nationwide and represents a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation – everyday and in times of crisis. To find your state and local MHA affiliate, access: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/searchMHA/
  • Mental Health Factsheet: Workplace
    This factsheet includes links to the following helpful information for both individuals and professionals:
    • Depression in the Workplace
    • Finding Your Balance-At Work and Home
    • Gaining a Competitive Edge Through Mental Health-The Business Case for Employers
    • Mind Your Stress-On the Job
    • Returning to Work: Tips for Service Members & Employers
    • What to Do When You Think an Employee May Need Mental Health Help
  • Operation Healthy Reunions
    Provides education and helps to bust the stigma of mental health issues among soldiers, their families, and medical staff to ensure that a greater number of military families receive the prompt and high-quality care they deserve. In partnership with the leading military organizations, Mental Health America distributes educational materials on such topics as reuniting with your spouse and children, adjusting after war, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill - http://www.nami.org/

NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families. The NAMI organization operates at the local, state and national levels. Each level of the organization provides support, education, information and referral and advocacy to support the fifteen million Americans who live with serious mental illness today and their families. Local affiliates and state organizations identify and work on issues most important to their community and state.

SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Information Center - http://www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) National Mental Health Information Center provides information about mental health via a toll-free telephone number (800-789-2647), this website, and more than 600 publications. It was developed for users of mental health services and their families, the general public, policy makers, providers, and the media. The website contains a lot of valuable resources including:

Mental Health Organizations by State - http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/state_orgs.htm
These links provide information on mental health agencies and private organizations in each state. This information is made available to CDC courtesy of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Center for Mental Health Services, Mental Health Services Locator.

Fast Facts on Psychiatric Disabilities - http://www.worksupport.com/research/viewContent.cfm/45
In spite of the presence of symptoms, many people with mental illness work every day or attend school. Many successful individuals in government, arts, theater, law, education, entertainment, and medicine have some form of mental illness. This document, available in both Text and PDF formats, includes some facts and information on employment concerns, accommodation considerations, employment scenarios and additional resources.

America’s Heroes at Work - http://www.americasheroesatwork.gov/
This U.S. Department of Labor project focuses on the employment challenges of returning service members living with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It includes information and tools to help returning service members affected by TBI and/or PTSD succeed in the workplace - particularly service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Businesses Materials for a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace: Workplaces That Thrive: A Resource for Creating Mental Health-Friendly Work Environments
This publication is designed to help human resources personnel look at the benefits of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace. Section I is a brief introduction to the status of mental health in the U.S. workplace, including the challenge of overcoming stigma and discrimination toward persons with mental illnesses. Section V provides ready-to-use resources for communicating with employees about mental health in the workplace. Section VI provides materials for basic supervisory training in some mental health essentials for working with employees who experience mental illnesses.

Resources from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) on Mental Health

Resources from the National Center on Workforce and Disability/Adult (NCWD/Adult) on Mental Health

1   The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders In America, 2006 (rev), National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No. 06-4584. Available    

2   Ibid.

3  Merikangas KR. Ames M, Cui L, Stang PE, Ustun TB, von Korff M, Kessler, RC. The impact of comorbidity of mental and physical conditions on role disability in the US adult population. Archives of General Psychiatry, Oct 2007; VOL 64(10). Available

4  U.S. Census Bureau Facts for Features, “Veterans Day 2008: Nov. 11,”U.S. Department of Commerce, October 16, 2008, CB08-FF.19.

5   Employment Issues for People with Mental Illness. Institute for Community Inclusion. Available at http://www.onestops.info/article.php?article_id=88

6   National Mental Health Association. Recovery at Work: A Guide to Implementing Effective Employment Services for People with Psychiatric Disabilities, 19 July 2005. Available at http://www1.nmha.org/pbedu/adult/EmploymentManual.pdf

Note to DPNs: If you have comments, suggestions or questions relating to the above topic, please email DJ Diamond at ddiamond@ndi-inc.org . They may be added to this FAQ and the archived one on the One-Stop Toolkit website.