Rutgers researchers study connection between mental illness, unemployment rate
The Rutgers University Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions had a team of 10 faculty and research assistants work with 11 community mental health agencies in New Jersey and the Philadelphia area to assess a study on those with mental illness and the connection to the unemployment rate.
The 12-month study was completed by 162 individuals with serious mental illness.
Giovanna Giacobbe, a faculty lecturer in the department, Dr. Ni Gao, an associate professor in the department, and Dr. Sunhee Jang Eissenstat, an assistant professor in the department, spoke about their involvement in this study.
In a joint statement, they said the study was about evaluating employment outcomes such as job seeking, obtaining activities and wage information after training mental health counselors on integrating employment services into mental health care to help individuals with serious mental illness.
“People with serious mental illness have a persistently high unemployment rate — 80 percent or higher. A majority of them rely on public assistance such as Supplemental Security Income, food stamps and Medicaid. Many live near or below the poverty line.” they said.
They said the study started in October 2013 and was completed in 2017. It received $600,000 research funding from the National Institute on Disabilities, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
They said there was a focus on two parts: First, to provide evidence-based vocational rehabilitation training to mental health agency staff to improve knowledge, skills and resources to help individuals with mental illness to look for jobs, and second, to focus on how effective the staff and their training were.
“Previous research studies show how employment participation not only provides them more financial resources, but also improves their self-esteem, mental health and physical health. (But), not all mental health agencies provide vocational services to help them get jobs. The goal of the study is to research effective interventions to integrate vocational rehabilitation services into mental health care.” they said.
They said the results of the study found that people with serious mental illness want to work but face difficulties with lack of work history, educational requirements and transportation to work.
Giacobbe, Gao and Eissenstat said they found that a broad and significant barrier affecting those with serious mental illness and work is physical health conditions. Their physical health conditions negatively affected their efforts in job searching, submitting applications and interviewing.
They said, though, the most serious issue is that mentally ill job applicants perceived long-term physical health, instead of long-term mental health, conditions as barriers were statistically associated with fewer job-related activities.
“Unaddressed long-term physical health problems among this population unquestionably contribute to the overall higher rate of physical health-related diseases and premature mortality as compared to the general population,” they said. “The lack of employment participation also deprives these individuals of the benefits from being employed including increased financial resources, self-worth, community integration and quality of life.”
For the population with serious mental illness (SMI), Giacobbe, Gao and Eissenstat said their study provides evidence of the urgent need for the integration of mental health, physical health and vocational rehabilitation.
There is also a serious disparity in healthcare provision between those with serious mental illness and the general population, they said. Studies found the unequal quality of healthcare provision contributed to excess mortality.
“For example, people with SMI are less likely to receive cancer screening during routine medical checkups. Individuals with schizophrenia have lower rates of surgical interventions such as stenting and bypass grafting for cardiovascular disease," they said. “Considering that when physical health problems are unaddressed, other services including employment programs might not be effective. The need for integrated care exists for people with SMI for their successful recovery and rehabilitation.”
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