The unemployment rate for those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness waivers anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent. That is a huge number, but it isn't due to a lack of desire on the part of the individual seeking employment.
Maura Kelley is the director of the Mental Health Peer Connection, a group that helps those with a mental impairment "get out in the community and live like everyone else." She said that "getting employment is key to that." As an individual with bipolar disorder, she knows that the inability to find employment isn't always on the shoulders of the individual with the disability.
If asked whether or not having a mental impairment creates a stigma with employers, Kelley would say that in her experience the answer is yes. "I think employers walk on eggshells if they know someone has a mental illness," she said. The stigma in this case is that those with an impairment are also unstable, but "that's not what people with mental illness are about."
As a part of her disorder, Kelley hears voices. She knows that she can "calm them," but she knows that mentioning it during an interview will likely be met with a negative assumption. "No way am I going to hire this person," is the response she would expect to hear if she did mention it.
What would her response be? She would let employers know that a mental impairment isn't "who" a person is, but a part of them. "I have creativity, I have strength, I have resiliency, I have survivorship, I have recovery," are only some of the responses she might give a prospective employer. These, she says are only because of her mental impairment.
Out of the 70 to 90 percent of individuals with a mental impairment, those who have a disability that does rise to a level that prevents them from working can file for Social Security disability benefits in Missouri.
Source: CBS, "For those with mental illness, stigma cuts deep," Jonathan LaPook, Aug. 11, 2013