Entrepreneurship strikes people with mental illness too: The other SE | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

Entrepreneurship strikes people with mental illness too: The other SE

December 11, 2012
by Steve Bell
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How Being Your Own Boss Can Improve Mental and Financial Health

In February 2000, Business Week magazine published an article entitled, "Its Your Problem Too" about the challenges business owners and managers face when an employee experiences mental illness.  Soon after the article was published, a reader sent in a letter to the editor with the folowing headline:  "Mental Illness Strikes Entrepreneurs Too".  The writer points out how starting a new business venture can lead to serious stress that can lead to anxiety and depression  and its impact on productivity.

Let's turn that headline upside down: "Entrepreneurship Strikes Persons with Psychiatric Disabilities Too".  The evidence-based practice, supportive employment (SE) is a well-documented tool in helping persons with psychiatric disabilities secure and maintain employment.  Competitive employment based on consumer choice is the goal of SE and studies show that fully implementing SE often leads to success for 40 to 60 percent of those who participate in these programs.  Since personal preference is an essential element of SE, all possible income-producing options should be made available to clients, including entrepreneurship.  Below is a statement from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Policy (ODEP):

"Self-Employment has long been an option for individuals seeking a new or better career.  And today, many individuals with disabilities are turning to the flexibility self-employment offers in assisting them to meet both their professional and financial goals.  Starting one's own business can offer similiar flexibility, allowing people to make a living while maintaining   alot of latitude in choices such as work hours, nature of tasks and income.  As a result, ODEP encourages access to funding and resources to assist individuals with disabilities interested in these alternatives to traditional employment."  www.dol.gov/odep/Self-EmploymentEntrepreneurship.htm

It should be noted that self-employment for persons with disabilities (the other SE) creates a work environment where the entrepreneur sets the terms and conditions of employment as well as assuming the financial and other risks involved.  Reasonable accomodations for persons with psychiatric disabilities generally include taking frequent breaks, flexible work hours, visiting a physcian, therapist or support group on short notice and other personal wellness strategies.   If the business owner decides that working late for long stretches of time one day while their energy level is high  but then taking two days off in a row is more productive for them personally, then they can plan their work accordingly.  Furtheremore, as in any business, other people can be hired to perform tasks that the owner cannot or chooses not to do.  For example, if the owner is primarily a craftsman, but not skilled in bookeeping or other adminstrative tasks, paying someone else (including a family member) to handle such tasks should be built into the business plan.



Steve Bell

Peer-Provider and Advocate

Steve Bell


Steve Bell is the co-founder and executive director of  BrainStorm Career Services, a consumer-...

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