Nearly 80 percent of Oklahomans who receive publicly funded mental health services are unemployed, according to a report released Thursday.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness released the report Thursday, pointing out there are models for job programs for people with mental illness but they often are underfunded.
Mike Brose, the executive director of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, said public officials should take a leadership role in making Oklahoma a forerunner in helping people with mental health issues find jobs.
“The state of Oklahoma, via the governor and Legislature, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitative Services and other state agencies need to take leadership and communicate through all avenues the value to the workforce of Oklahoma to hiring people with disabilities, particularly those who live in recovery with mental illness and substance abuse histories,” Brose said. “Additionally, people who have made mistakes and who have been convicted of nonviolent felonies, many substance abuse related, and have turned around their lives, should have opportunity for education, training and employment, also.”
Oklahoma has the second-highest rate of residents with serious mental illness, a population that often struggles with finding employment, according to NAMI and federal data.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma is among 10 states that spend the least funding per capita on mental health services, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Oklahoma leaders have celebrated the state’s low unemployment rate, which was at 4.6 percent in May.
However, the report shows that rate isn’t true for all Oklahomans.
Sentence to poverty
“Mental illness should no longer sentence people to poverty,” the report reads. “People living with mental illness want to work, frequently can work, and models have been developed to help them succeed.
“However, these effective interventions are few and far between. Multiple implementation barriers exist, including lack of political will, inadequate funding, misaligned policies, stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness.”
The report also recommends changes that states can implement to better ensure people with mental illness have more job opportunities:
Enact state legislation to increase access to effective supported employment, which includes integrating employment with other mental health services and individualized long-term supports in the workplace.
Develop adequate, long-term financing mechanisms to implement evidence-based supported employment programs.
Allocate money to support transition services when Medicaid enrollees gain employment and enroll in private health coverage, enabling people to retain income and medical supports while they transition into employment.
Make it easier for employers to hire and support workers who live with mental illness, such as helping businesses leverage federal financial incentives like payroll tax credits to encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities.
Mental illness should no longer sentence people to poverty. People living with mental illness want to work, frequently can work and models have been developed to help them succeed. However, these effective interventions are few and far between. Multiple implementation barriers exist, including lack of political will, inadequate funding, misaligned policies, stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness.”
Employment report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness,