People who live with mental illness or disabilities face numerous challenges. One of the biggest barriers is finding and keeping adequate employment. Some young people with disabilities are on social security disability or receive benefits from their state and therefore may not be highly motivated to find employment. However, research shows that permanent employment can help improve the mental well-being, self-esteem, and financial condition of people with disabilities. Supported employment (SE) services are designed to help these people transition from school or nonwork situations to employment. However, it is unclear how much help SEs provide this segment of the population.
Jane Burke-Miller of the Center on Mental Health Services Research and Policy at the University of Illinois led a study that examined the outcomes of youth and young adults receiving services from SEs. She looked at 1,272 individuals ranging in age from 18 to 30 and found that, overall, SE seemed to improve outcomes for the majority of the participants. “However, for those engaged in SE, this advantage appears to be primarily among young adults rather than youth,” Burke-Miller said. Specifically, the younger individuals, those under age 24, seemed to be focused more on completing educational goals prior to entering the workforce. They also took several different jobs rather than staying in one position long-term. This could be a normal pattern of behavior for identity formation, as young people tend to try many different avenues of employment before finding a good fit.
For the young adults, those ranging in age from 25 to 30, the SE seemed to have the most impact. These individuals were more likely to enter and stay in the workforce than the younger participants. Burke-Miller also found some additional barriers to employment. Those who received social security income or state aid were less likely to pursue active employment than those who did not. Income-limit guidelines for these programs could dissuade recipients from looking for full-time employment. Also, family members who rely on this supplemental income in order to care for the disabled individual may not want to risk losing these benefits in exchange for the possibility of full-time income. Although these issues were not fully investigated in this study, they should be looked at in future work. Burke-Miller believes, these factors notwithstanding, that the results of this study show that SEs provide much-needed assistance to young adults with disabilities but these services might need to shift their focus in order to be truly helpful to the youngest and oldest disabled potential employees.
Burke-Miller, Jane, Lisa A. Razzano, Dennis D. Grey, Crystal R. Blyler, and Judith A. Cook. Supported employment outcomes for transition age youth and young adults. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 35.3 (2012): 171-79. Print.
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