The experience of employment for people who have experienced mental illness
de Malmanche, Janie-Lyn
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Unemployment is a significant issue for people with an experience of mental illness. While there is growing evidence supporting the use of supported employment models for people with an experience of mental illness and increasing research in regards to specific models of employment support, current literature and research is extremely sparse in regards to the overall experience of employment from the perspective of people with experience of mental illness. This study has used a phenomenological approach to capture the stories of employment for some of the people who have participated in MAHI, an employment initiative for people with experience of mental illness. The program included a New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) approved training component; paid employment in the horticulture industry; and support to connect to services that provide assistance with on-going individualised career planning and employment support. Data was collected through interviews and a focus group meeting with six people. Two distinct stages of employment emerged from the data analysis including “becoming employed” and “being employed”. Within each stage of employment the three dominant structures were identified: “connection to self”, “connection to others” and “connection to occupation”. The findings of this study have challenged my own assumptions and pre-understandings regarding employment. One of my early assumptions was that employment had a significant impact on health and well-being, however I now believe it is not necessarily the impact of being employed that impacts health and well-being but more that being employed contributes to a sense of social acceptance and social inclusion. It is this acceptance and inclusion that impacts more directly on health and well-being. I also now have a greater appreciation of the range of social, economic and cultural factors that influence the process of finding and sustaining employment, and consider these to have a more significant impact on the experience of employment than the effects of mental illness. In supporting people to find employment it is important to enable self-determination at all levels of service delivery for people with an experience of mental illness. Having opportunities to make choices is an important component of being able to be self determining, and it is therefore necessary to offer people a variety of choices in regards to how to find and support for employment. In regards to sustaining employment it is important to recognise the impact of workplace conditions and in particular the social environment of the workplace and how this affects the experience of employment. MAHI is a promising model of employment support that reflected these considerations.
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