It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of people with serious mental illness are unemployed, despite the fact that the vast majority want to work.
In an effort to examine this fact, more than 500 leaders from corporate, government, association and health care sectors will gather at the nation''s first summit focused entirely on initiatives to support mental health in the workplace.
The conference, entitled "Hand in Hand: It''s Worth the Investment. A National Summit on Best Practices for Mental Health in the Workplace," will take place Oct. 9, in Washington, D.C.
"It''s estimated that American businesses, governments and families lose $113 billion a year from the cost of untreated mental illness," said Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. "To curtail such losses, we need to do a better job of supporting workers who experience mental health problems."
According to statistics, one in five Americans experience some form of mental health problem, ranging from occasional depression to more serious conditions.
"People with psychiatric disabilities make exemplary employees, but unfortunately they often face barriers to employment and advancement in their careers," said Joseph Autry III, administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The conference is co-sponsored by SAMHSA, the Department of Labor''s Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities and a coalition of public and private organizations.
"Our hope is that this conference will help educate employers on the value of hiring people with mental illness, while also uncovering ways to make the transition into the workforce easier on the employees themselves," said Dr. Bernard Arons, director of SAMHSA''s Center for Medical Health Services.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Buchwald will deliver the keynote address and share his personal struggle with bipolar disorder.
Two-time Nobel Prize recipient John Nash Jr., will wrap up the summit by sharing his experiences living with schizophrenia.
"I know that either work opportunities, or merely what is called ''occupational therapy'' can be very beneficial for persons with mental problems," said Nash. "I feel that I benefited, during my period of mental illness, from interludes of scientific work and later from recreational work and study that I got involved in."
by Virginia Foran