Employment Counsellors make it easy to hire people with mental health challenges

By: Tri-Cities News Mathew
Published: October 5, 2010

Looking for work and having a job interview can make most people anxious, but it can be especially difficult for people who have experienced a mental illness. In our society, having a job is equated with having an identity and unemployment is a significant barrier for those who are struggling to fit in and return their lives to a feeling of normal. 

“Work gives people self-esteem, a sense of structure and a meaningful purpose,” according to Angela Williams, a vocational counsellor with Fraser Health’s Tri-Cities Mental Health Centre. 

Donna Bonertz, an employment specialist with the New View Society agrees, “Work gives confidence and self-worth, you can see it enhance someone and they lose the neediness and dependence that can cripple someone for a lifetime.” 

As part of the recovery and rehabilitation process for people affected by mental health issues in the Tri-Cities, the Tri-Cities Mental Health Centre and New View Society offer employment programs for people who are ready to return to the workforce. Both organizations offer individual employment counseling and employment skills training, along with a number of other supportive services, and they occasionally work together to help individual clients. 

Local businesses can also benefit from these programs, as the counsellors and employment specialists provide pre-screened job candidates who are ready to work. Both organizations focus on finding a good employee-employer fit, and can provide job coaching and on-going support for both parties. 

Local businesses can also benefit from these programs, as the counsellors and employment specialists provide pre-screened job candidates who are ready to work. Both organizations focus on finding a good employee-employer fit, and can provide job coaching and on-going support for both parties. Job coaching also helps the new employee build relationships with the other employees, enabling them to overcome uncertainties and fears about integrating into the workplace. 

Employers are pleasantly surprised to learn that people with disabilities have higher levels of retention, which reduces turnover and human resource costs. Once a person is comfortable in a steady work environment, they are less likely to leave, as finding work can be a daunting challenge when compounded by a disability. 

These employment services are needed according to Williams, because “we actually have a large population of people with mental illness.” The Canadian Mental Health Association states that 20 per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Putting these statistics into perspective, Bonertz explains, “There are hundreds of thousands of people who work in competitive jobs every day that no one is aware of their challenges, but when it becomes chronic and persistent, the barriers stack up.” 

Companies can support all their employees, whether they have disclosed a mental illness or not, by creating a supportive working environment. Typical accommodations often include shorter shifts, job sharing, and flexible break times, which can benefit people suffering from stress or feeling the side effects of medication. Open communication and a healthy workplace culture not only benefits employees, but the employer also by increasing productivity and retention and reducing absenteeism. Employers can work with either organization to address mental health issues, get advice on accommodation issues, setting boundaries and counseling resources. 

If you are looking to hire or need more information contact New View Society (604-941-3222) or Tri-Cities Mental Health Centre (604-777-8400). The Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce also has additional material on the business case for hiring people with disabilities on www.engageability.ca