By Bob Williams, Associate Commissioner
Office of Employment Support Programs, Social Security Administration
Next week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Designated by the U.S. Congress in 1990, activities and efforts to raise awareness about mental illness are planned for national and local communities, including efforts to promote awareness about the importance of work for all Americans, including employment for those living with mental illness.
The numbers are striking. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in four adults in this country experiences mental illness in a given year. This figure translates to 57 million Americans. Serious mental illnessis the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people aged 15-44. My agency provides support to approximately 2.3 million people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness; they are the largest and most rapidly expanding subgroup of program beneficiaries. In 2010, nearly one out of every five working-age adults who were awarded benefits qualified because of a mental illness. In addition to their monthly cash benefit, all are eligible to participate in a Social Security-sponsored program, called Ticket to Work.
Choosing to work means earning money and, eventually, becoming financially independent. Having more money enables people to make choices and to pursue goals that simply aren’t possible living on disability benefits. The Ticket to Work program is here to help people with disabilities find good jobs, good careers and better self-supporting futures! As a secondary advantage, for many people, work means boosting self-esteem, meeting new people, and giving back to their community. The path to employment leads to success, and that success builds, allowing individuals to gain confidence and transform their lives. The Ticket to Work program, along with other Work Incentives, offers a number of features that can help individuals with mental illness choose to work. For example, features such as continuation of Medicare/Medicaid coverage and expedited reinstatement (for those who qualify) can ease the concerns of people who may be considering entry or re-entry into the workforce.
How It Works
All Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities who are between the ages 18-64 qualify for these free and voluntary programs. Social Security works with more than 1,200 rehabilitation and employment service providers across the country.These organizations provide support to beneficiaries with career counseling, job search assistance, vocational rehabilitation and training. Many of these organizations offer services especially for individuals living with mental illness. For example, some service providers offer peer-to-peer support, crisis intervention and a focus on employable skills-building. According to NAMI, more than 70 percent of employers who have hired individuals with serious mental illness are willing to continue working with rehabilitation programs that place and support those people.
What You Can Do
For more information on Ticket to Work and Work Incentives, to find a service provider near you, or to learn about people who used the program to find work, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (866) 968-7842 or (866) 833-2967 (TTY/TDD).