Dan O’Brien is the Deputy Associate Commissioner for Social Security’s Employment Support Programs. Prior to joining Social Security, Mr. O’Brien managed return to work programs for people with serious mental illness for 27 years.
Since 1949, May has been recognized as Mental Health Month, to help raise awareness for mental health in America and to bring attention to services that support people with mental health issues. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that one in four adults in the U.S. will experience mental illness per year. That translates to more than 57 million Americans. Serious mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people between the ages of 15 and 44.
Nationwide, one of the most pressing issues for young adults is making the transition from education to full time employment.This is a challenging transition for many, especially in these tough economic times. However for those with mental illness, additional resources and support may be required. As a family member of someone with mental illness, I’ve been concerned for some time that society does not create the same high career expectations for people with a mental illness as it does for those without mental illness. Unemployment rates for people with mental illness hover around 80 percent- the highest unemployment rate of any disability group and more than twice than that of young adults without a disability. While this can be partially attributed to the debilitating effect of multiple barriers, I believe it’s also a result of what I call the “tyranny of low expectations.”