To the Editor: Although I am not a regular monthly reader of Psychiatric Services, I am an educated consumer, and I occasionally review the letters and books sections when my case manager or therapist loans me a copy. I do know that the journal is familiar with and sympathetic to issues and concerns of mental health consumers. Having done a research paper on stigma and mental health consumerism and a survey in the process, I found the letter by Ruth Arnold (1) on employment and disability in the October 1998 issue quite empathetic, and I would like to elaborate on her observations.
Ms. Arnold is right when she says that many mentally ill persons who are receiving Social Security disability benefits would rather rely on disability payments as their mainstay and work part time to supplement their income. An increasing number are forsaking full-time employment for part-time work because they find it more therapeutic for their mental-illness-damaged lives.
For mentally disabled persons, employment is a hotbed of controversy about where, how, why, and when to perform certain jobs. Many work supervisors demand that the job be done "just so," or else the employee is not worth keeping. They watch disabled workers more closely than other employees because they are waiting to see disabled employees act like leaders, produce miracles, and work wonders. The slogan "Get an education and get a job" doesn't hold true any more. You can get all kinds of education, but if you don't please your supervisor, you're out of a job.
We need more employment specialists like Ms. Arnold who sympathize with mentally ill persons who want to use disability benefits as a mental health umbrella and who recognize the need to increase benefits for these persons to the same level as those for persons who are blind and disabled.
Ms. Elliott lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.