People with lived experience of mental health and addictions issues (PWLE) often face significant barriers in accessing employment and thereby securing adequate incomes. According to a 2013 comprehensive review by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), up to 90 percent of Canadians with serious mental illnesses are unemployed; their skills, talents and potential contributions to economic and civic life are neither recognized nor utilized. Literature has identified the following systemic barriers that block PWLE from achieving their goal of employment:
- discrimination and stereotyping
- lack of education and training opportunities
The MHCC’s 2013 report entitled The Aspiring Workforce examined the experience of people with a serious mental illness who have been unable to enter the workforce, identified two additional systemic barriers:
- income security policies that penalize (or fail to sufficiently reward) earned income, and
- absence of supported employment for people to find – and keep– a job.
Employment affects mental health
Stigma is likely the most significant barriers for PWLE, who are more likely to either be unemployed or to have left the labour market. In its landmark 2012 consultation report entitled Minds That Matter, the Ontario Human Rights Commission consulted widely with PWLE. Participants in the consultation shared how they were exposed to stigma and negative stereotypes. MHCC’s The Aspiring Workforce report noted that without educational achievement, people lack opportunities for quality employment, and are more likely to face poverty, alienation, isolation, and consequently, poorer mental and physical health.
The effects of low income and inadequate employment are compounded even more significantly for racialized groups, who are three times more likely to live in poverty than other groups. Racialized populations, especially women, are increasingly employed in part-time and unstable work. Therefore, successfully engaging PWLE with the labour market is crucial, not only for improving their own physical and mental well-being, but also for strengthening overall economic growth, equity and social cohesion.
Securing employment is also difficult for individuals who have come into contact with the justice system. Many individuals face barriers as a result of their police record and for PWLE, their mental health police record can be a barrier to accessing employment. Obtaining stable, quality employment such as income stability and community connectedness can create conditions that prevent crime and divert individuals away from the criminal justice system. For example, a study found that one year after release from prison, individuals who were unemployed re-offended at a rate of 40 percent compared to 17 percent of those who were employed.
Employment supports that include job readiness, educational training, job placement and case management that address the specific needs of individuals are more likely to be successful and result in reduced recidivism rates.