Remove schizophrenia barrier in workplace:…

Imagine a workplace where all who hire understand that a person with schizophrenia can contribute just like the heart attack survivor or the employee whose bad back requires special seating in the office and conference room. Mental illnesses, as brain impairments, are cousins to missing limbs, sight impairment and hearing loss.

What better time to open this door than now, when employers struggle to find good employees? Companies have had 28 years to become accustomed to the Americans with Disabilities Act for visible disabilities. What about the unseen disability of schizophrenia?

Hiring stress

The employment crisis is serious on both sides of the hiring desk. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the 3.6 million job openings in 2012 have grown to 5.5 million today. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that there are fewer than 1% of Americans with schizophrenia. Given the Census Bureaus estimate of 327 million residents as of Jan. 1, 2018 this means something under 3.27 million people comprise this potential applicant pool.

Vacancies increase costs, according to to SHRM data retrieved from its benchmarking database, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics. Empty desks are expensive. When positions go unfilled, organizations pay recruiting costs for longer periods of time, SHRM reports. The average vacancy in 2012 was 33 days. The lag is now 36. Recruiting costs have increased 36% since 2012.

Keeping some populations at arms length, the licensing system also makes being hired difficult, requiring applicants to jump through discriminatory hoops to qualify.

Licensing exams for healthcare professionals have asked questions that violate the spirit of the ADA, according to psychologist Fred Frese ( A group of psychologists and psychiatrists is working to get the wording changed.

Work as a coping strategy

Last year, an article titled How Occupationally High-Achieving Individuals With a Diagnosis of Schizophrenia Manage their Symptomswas published inPsychiatric Services. It discusses 20 participants, an equal number of men and women with an average age of 40, many employed full-time for less than $50,000.

They work in an occupation categorized as professional, technical or managerial … or (are) responsible as a stay-at-home caretaker of children or elderly family or engaged a a full-time student. …, reports Amy Cohen, et al. Many of these individuals find work to be a critical coping strategy and contributor to their quality of life. Elyn Saks is one of them.

Her brilliant, arresting The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness (Hachette, $16) points out that schizophrenia doesnt preclude achievement and contribution. A powerhouse, Saks is a perfect example after nearly a lifetime with the disease.

Saks has great intelligence, determination and the steel to reach her objectives, whatever the barrier. She has implemented measures to cope with her disease. At Oxford, she taught herself French before earning a graduate degree. At Yale, she earned her law degree. She is now the Orrin B. Evans Distinguished Professor of Law, Psychology, Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California and the founder and faculty director of the Gould School of Laws Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics.

The Center Cannot Holdexplains, … I knew that work, more than anything else I could do, would steady me. … Underestimating what people can do creates negative expectations, which is too bad because working gives most people a real sense of well-being and focus.

Knoxville News Sentinel Online syndicated columnist Mildred Culp, Ph.D., may be reached at 漏 2018 Passage Media.