Employability and Mental Health

By Kurt Stapleton

For my Sociology class: Race and Minority Groups, we were asked to pick a “private problem” and  briefly describe the following:

-What factors/evidence would you use to explain how and why it may reflect a structural problem in society?
-What are some potential solutions to this problem, both for the individual and the group to which they belong?
-Which theoretical perspective lens would you apply to solve this issue: functionalism, conflict theory, or symbolic interactionism? Why?

I chose to write about people with a mental health diagnosis and the stigma that they are not “employable” and other stigmas society has created. 

There was a belief that those who live with mental health challenges are not employable or capable of holding a job. This was the common belief for many people; that someone with a mental health disability could not hold meaningful employment or, at the very least, they would only be able to do minimal task employment such as janitorial, cleaning, or low-level skills jobs. Society has had this view for as long as mental health has been around. It falls mostly on the shoulders of employers, doctors and mental health care providers, however, those who hear it, believe it, and preach it are also at fault. Symbolic interactionism is the theory that comes to mind when thinking about this. For years, society placed this label on those with MHC (mental health challenges) that they were not capable of working and people believed this. Stigma plays a large role in this as people with MHC are thought to be lazy, not motivated or not ambitious. Another belief was that they could not handle stress and lacked coping skills to get through certain challenges. It is true that there are barriers for some, yet we have programs to help teach these skills and support them through the process of seeking employment.

Katherine Ponte writes (NAMI, 2019) people with MHC may be unemployed because:

“The debilitating impacts of mental illness. 

The fear of having to explain my spotty resume due to multiple hospitalizations and depressive episodes. 

The awareness that nothing I had done before I got sick seemed to count.
The prospect of having to start over.
The stigma that told me I could not work.” Society has been telling us for years that they are not able to do work. Thankfully, society is changing and accepting these changes. 

We are seeing how common it is to have a mental health challenge and how anyone can work and hold meaningful, good paying jobs no matter their mental health status with programs like supported employment, clubhouses and employers that are willing to work with individuals and their challenges. Companies are investing in workplace initiatives to have more diversity, equity and inclusion programs and are hiring people with mental health and physical disabilities and minorities in general. 

People are also becoming more confidant in their abilities and are self-employed as well. John’s Crazy Socks is a great example of this. Mark (father) was building an online business when his son, John who has down syndrome, said he wanted go into business with his dad. After realizing he did not have many options after he finished school, John thought of the idea of having a food truck but they both realized they couldn’t cook. So, John said “Let’s sell socks!”. And so, they created their business. 

We are learning, as a society, that people with mental health challenges can work meaningful jobs, they can do volunteer work and be very productive members of society. Simply because they have a disability does not mean they have to sit on the bench and not be a part of the team. In fact, they can be the quarterback, running back or whatever position they choose.