May 26, 2008

Three in five mental health sufferers can work

Donal Hickey

Irish Examiner

Three out of five people with serious mental health problems can successfully get and keep work, many at the higher end of the professions, a conference was told yesterday. However, those with mental health difficulties had far less access to the workplace than those with physical or sensory difficulties and there was a gap in mental health between training and actually getting into the workplace, the Mental Health Ireland annual conference also heard.

MHI chief executive Brian Howard said the national mental health strategy was about returning people to their own communities and part of this had to be an opportunity to work.

Research in Britain had found that 60% of such people could work satisfactorily.

A pilot project later this year in the south-east would be the first of its kind placing those with mental health problems in work.

Mr Howard said up to 450,000 people were suffering from mental health problems here at any given time.

Such difficulties might include depression — the most widely recognised problem — eating disorders, schizophrenia and other serious, enduring mental health problems.

One in every four people would encounter a mental health problem, recover and go on to lead normal lives, he told the conference in the Brehon Hotel, Killarney.

But, while it had become acceptable for those with physical disabilities to enter the workplace, this was not the case with those, with mental health problems, Mr Howard pointed out.

"People with enduring mental health problems are caught in a gap. They are on the road to recovery, part of the community, but don't enjoy employment opportunities. They want to be 100% part of the communities and it is very important for their own physical and mental health to be able to work," Mr Howard said.

MHI was determined to make the pilot programme — which had the back-up of the Wexford Mental Health Association, FAS, local partnership programmes and the HSE — succeed and be replicated elsewhere.

Some 20 people would be placed in work and would have the necessary supports.
David Ryan, co-ordinator of Work Access, in Limer- ick, and secretary of the Irish Association of Sup- ported Employment, said looking for and getting work could bring its own problems for people with mental health difficulties.

There was a tendency to tell people suffering from depression to go off and get a job. "The truth is going and looking for a job and finding one can be stressful and can lead to regression," Mr Ryan warned. Saying a job would not solve life's problems, he urged sports clubs and other organisations to be more accessible and more open to people with mental illness. "There is still a lot of stigma when it comes to access for people with mental health problems," he said.

Mr Ryan also said Work Access, which offered FAS-funded programmes at several centres to support persons with all disabilities, had noticed a shift in the sectors it represented. Now, 35% of its 2,300 clients had psychological or mental health difficulties and had overtaken those with intellectual and physical disabilities.