Poor physical health acts as a barrier for job seekers

People with serious mental illness perceive their physical health as a greater barrier to employment.


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Physical health conditions are pervasive among individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) living in the community. And many individuals with SMI are unemployed despite their desire to work.

A new study by Rutgers University explored participants’ perceptions of physical and mental health conditions as barriers to employment and the impact of such conditions on job-searching activities. The study found that such people often think that their physical health problems rather than psychological health make it difficult for them to find jobs.

Meanwhile, the study highlights the need for integrated mental health and physical health care for people with serious mental illness, especially those with long-term chronic conditions.

Lead author Ni Gao, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Health Professions, said, “Without addressing physical health problems, people with serious mental illness will continue to experience more health problems and diseases and do not seek employment that could improve their quality of life.”

Scientists met over one year with 162 people with serious mental illness living in supportive housing programs. At each meeting, they assessed the participants’ physical health and employment-related activities, such as the number of applications submitted, interviews they had gone to, job offers that were made, and what these individuals identified as their barrier to getting a job.

Almost 50% of the members had a high school diploma, and 27 percent were college-educated. Around 60 percent had not been utilized during the past five years, yet all expressed a desire to seek employment when enrolled in the study. 

In every one of the month to month registration, 11 to 26 percent of the participants revealed that their long term physical health conditions -, for example, diabetes, chronic pain, and obesity– prevented them from job-seeking versus zero to 2 percent who announced obstructions because of long -term mental illness, for example, lack of energy in the job seeking due to depression or anxiety symptoms.

Gao said, “Studies have shown that the life expectancy of people with serious mental illness may be reduced by up to 25 years compared with the general population, but that employment may be one of key elements to improving and maintaining both their mental health and physical health. Employment increases their resources for better living conditions, and access to quality health care promotes positive self-identity and peer respect. These are people who are unemployed despite having a desire to work.”

“Therefore, the integration of mental health, physical health, and vocational rehabilitation for this underserved group deserve public attention.”

The study is published in The Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.


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