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Tackling mental health employment barriers in the workplace

Those with mental illness reportedly have trouble obtaining jobs or advancing in their current job.
Tackling mental health employment barriers in the workplace
Posted at 1:01 PM, Jan 02, 2024

Above them is construction, making noise over the rooms in the church where they rent. But inside those rooms the work must begin — the work of achieving work.

The first unit of the day is underway at Clubhouse Atlanta. Each member who sits with the staff has a clinically diagnosed mental illness. When they come here, it's to build the skills to sustain a job.

"I think I need more of a challenge right now," said Randy Aolden, who has worked off and on for decades through tinnitus, migraines and schizoaffective disorder. "I don't want to lay in my bed and sink into my bed and just do nothing all day."

Natosha Huggins-Cupid is the employment specialist for an organization that's in 34 countries and has reached tens of thousands. They boast that their method of dividing days into skill-building blocks is abnormally effective in aiding employment.

"You're following through, and you accomplish something at the end of your shift," Huggins-Cupid said. "If you can do that consistently, you're actually practicing going into the real work world."

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"The last job I had was probably six months ago," said Jasmine Lynn, another member, who rarely shares her condition with potential employers. "I haven't really found a safe space for that. I've had the experience where I may have overshared before, and that's affected my job situation. So I have to be careful."

It's the same outlook shared across a survey published this year by Boston Consulting Group. They found employees with disabilities significantly under-disclose to their employers, and employers vastly underestimate the number of employees with disabilities. Clubhouse Atlanta partners with companies on positions for members — with a twist.

"I will train with the business," Huggins-Cupid said. "I will turn around and train the member, and then the member will do the job. If the member cannot make it for any reason, I step in. If I'm not available, another staff member will step in. So that's guaranteed coverage. Nobody else can offer that."

Clubhouse Atlanta is a few years old but growing fast. They'll soon outgrow their rented rooms at the church. But for now, the members who fill those rooms with the construction ongoing overhead, do so with intention and belief that the method that has worked for others will lift them too.

"Life's a struggle. It is for everyone," Aolden said. "So now, that's why I'm here — just taking it day by day."

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