“I Had My Way of Doing Things and It Worked for Me”: Lived Employment Experiences of Adults with Psychiatric Disabilities

Osaretin Uhunoma, Junghwan Kim, Joann S. Olson, Doo H. Lim


Adults with psychiatric disabilities have a higher rate of unemployment and underemployment and have often suffered some form of job discrimination and poor employment accommodations due to the nature of their disabilities. However, there are few empirical investigations related to how these individuals undertake and/or perceive their employment experiences and the meaning of those experiences. This study aims to explore the lived experiences of adults with psychiatric disabilities who have received their employment-related postsecondary training in a southwestern city of the United States. Using a transcendental phenomenological approach, semi-structured interviews for were conducted with six participants; each participant was interviewed twice. Based on the data analysis, six core themes emerged: subtle discrimination, work and familial support, disability awareness, accommodation, fear of embarrassment / strength limitation, and disclosure/self-advocacy. These findings advance the understanding of the core requirements and relevant accommodations needed for adults with psychiatric disabilities to help them gain and retain employment in a competitive labor market. Based on these findings, we conclude this article with a discussion of practical implications and suggestions for future research.

Full Text:



American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Aslan, D., & Aydin, H. (2016). Philosophical paradigms of constructivism: A review of literature. Usak University Journal of Educational Research, 2(2), 56-71. Benoit, C., Jansson, M., Jansenberger, M., & Phillips, R. (2013). Disability stigmatization as a barrier to employment equity for legally-blind Canadians. Disability & Society, 28(7), 970-983. doi:10.1080/09687599.2012.741518 Bigby, C., & Wiesel, I. (2011). Encounter as a dimension of social inclusion for people with intellectual disability: Beyond and between community presence and participation. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 36(4), 263-267. doi:10.3109/13668250.2011.619166

Boardman, J. E. D., Grove, B., Perkins, R., & Shepherd, G. (2003). Work and employment for people with psychiatric disabilities. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 182(6), 467–468. doi:10.1192/bjp.182.6.467 Carothers, D. & Parfitt, C. (2017). Disability or Language Difference: How Do We Decide? American Journal of Qualitative Research, 1(1), 1-12. Chow, C. M., Cichocki, B., & Croft, B. (2014). The impact of job accommodations on employment outcomes among individuals with psychiatric disabilities. Psychiatric Services, 65(9), 1126-1132. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201300267 Cook, J. A. (2006). Employment barriers for persons with psychiatric disabilities: Update of a report for the President’s Commission. Psychiatric Services, 57(10), 1391-1405. doi:10.1176/ps.2006.57.10.1391

Cooper, J. O. (1991). Overcoming barriers to employment: The meaning of reasonable accommodation and undue hardship in the Americans with Disabilities Act. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 139, 1423–1711. Corrigan, P. W., & O’Shaughnessy, J. R. (2007). Changing mental illness stigma as it exists in the real world. Australian Psychologist, 42(2), 90-97. doi:10.1080/00050060701280573

Creswell, J. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Critten, V. (2016). Expectations and realisations: The employment story of a young man with cerebral palsy. Disability & Society, 31(4), 573-576. doi:10.1080/09687599.2016.1180872 Darcy, S., Taylor, T., & Green, J. (2016). “But I can do the job”: Examining disability employment practice through human rights complaint cases. Disability & Society, 31(9), 1242-1274. doi:10.1080/09687599.2016.1256807 Ferrie, J. E., Head, J., Shipley, M. J., Vahtera, J., Marmot, M. G., & Kivimäki, M. (2006). Injustice at work and incidence of psychiatric morbidity: The Whitehall II study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 63(7), 443-450. doi:10.1136/oem.2005.022269 Frank, J. J., & Bellini, J. (2005). Barriers to the accommodation request process of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Journal of Rehabilitation, 71(2), 28-39. Gerber, P. J., Ginsberg, R., & Reiff, H. B. (1992). Identifying alterable patterns in employment success for highly successful adults with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25(8), 475-487. doi:10.1177/002221949202500802 Gerber, P. J., Price, L. A., Mulligan, R., & Shessel, I. (2004). Beyond transition: A comparison of the employment experiences of American and Canadian adults with LD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37(4), 283-291. doi:10.1177/00222194040370040101

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma and social identity (1st ed.). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Goldberg, R. J., Higgins, E. L., Raskind, M. H., & Herman, K. L. (2003). Predictors of success in individuals with learning disabilities: A qualitative analysis of a 20-year longitudinal study. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(4), 222-236. doi:10.1111/1540-5826.00077 Henry, A. D., & Lucca, A. M. (2004). Facilitators and barriers to employment: The perspectives of people with psychiatric disabilities and employment service providers. Work, 22(3), 169-182.

Iyitoglu, O., & Aydin, H. (2015). The relationship between multiple intelligence profiles and reading strategy use of successful English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Readers. South African Journal of Education, 35(2), 1-21.

Jones, S. R., Torres, V., & Arminio, J. (2013). Negotiating the complexities of qualitative research in higher education: Fundamental elements and issues. New York, NY: Routledge. Kato, K. (2018). Cultural Understandings of Mental health: The Role of Language and Ethnic Identity. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 5(1), 58-83. Kayaalp, A. (2015). Creativity for the Leaders of Future. Journal of Military and Information Science, 3 (3), 100-103. Kayaalp, A. (2016). The Impact of “Temporal Personality” on Individuals’ Organizational Citizenship Behaviors. Journal of Military and Information Science, 4(2), 79-86. Doi: 10.17858 /jmisci.05093. Kaye, H. S., Jans, L. H., & Jones, E. C. (2011). Why don’t employers hire and retain workers with disabilities? Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 21(4), 526-536. doi:10.1007/s10926-011-9302-8 Kerr, J. L., Dattilo, J., & O’Sullivan, D. (2012). Use of recreation activities as positive coping with chronic stress and mental health outcomes associated with unemployment of people with disabilities. Work, 43(3), 279-292. doi:10.3233/WOR-2012-1390 Kilinc, E. (2017). Review of Modernising school governance: Corporate planning and expert handling in state education. New York, NY: Routledge. 172 pp., ISBN-9781138787476..Research In Social Sciences And Technology, 2(2). Retrieved from http://ressat.org/index.php/ressat/article/view/327 Kim, J. (2014). Building coalition and learning together: A Korean-American community organization. Community Development Journal, 49(3), 473-488. doi:10.1093/cdj/bst053 Kim, J., Park, S. Y., & You, J. (2017). Strategic leadership for organizational learning: A multi-level approach. In V. C. X. Wang (Ed.), Encyclopedia of strategic leadership and management (pp. 1524-1537). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch105 Kitchin, R., Shirlow, P., & Shuttleworth, I. (1998). On the margins: Disabled people’s experience of employment in Donegal, West Ireland. Disability & Society, 13(5), 785-806. doi:10.1080/09687599826515 Lamichhane, K. (2012). Employment situation and life changes for people with disabilities: Evidence from Nepal. Disability & Society, 27(4), 471-485. doi:10.1080/09687599.2012.659462 Larson, J. E., & Corrigan, P. W. (2010). Psychotherapy for self-stigma among rural clients. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 66(5), 524-536. doi:10.1002/jclp.20679 Lim, D. H., Smith, K. L., & Kim, J. (2016). Integrating aging workforce: Organizational cases based on generational differences in the United States. Andragogy Today: Interdisciplinary Journal of Adult & Continuing Education, 19(2), 151-170.

Lindstrom, L., Doren, B., & Miesch, J. (2011). Waging a living: Career development and long-term employment outcomes for young adults with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 77(4), 423-434. doi:10.1177/001440291107700403

Link, B. G. (1987). Understanding labeling effects in the area of mental disorders: An assessment of the effects of expectations of rejection. American Sociological Review, 52(1), 96. doi:10.2307/2095395 Link, B. G., Yang, L. H., Phelan, J. C., & Collins, P. Y. (2004). Measuring mental illness stigma. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 30(3), 511-541. Lunt, N., & Thornton, P. (1994). Disability and employment: Towards an understanding of discourse and policy. Disability & Society, 9(2), 223-238. doi:10.1080/09687599466780231 Madaus, J. W. (2008). Employment self-disclosure rates and rationales of university graduates with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 41(4), 291-299. doi:10.1177/0022219407313805 McConnell, A. E., Martin, J. E., Juan, C. Y., Hennessey, M. N., Terry, R. A., el-Kazimi, N. A., Pannells, T. C., & Willis, D. M. (2012). Identifying nonacademic behaviors associated with post-school employment and education. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 36(3), 174-187. doi:10.1177/2165143412468147 Milner IV, H. R. (2007). Race, culture, and researcher positionality: Working through dangers seen, unseen, and unforeseen. Educational Researcher, 36(7), 388-400. doi:10.3102/0013189X07309471

Modi, S. (2018). Psychiatric disorders and the Americans with Disabilities Act: Reducing the stigma of mental illness in the workplace. Web Publication of the Dartmouth Law Journal. Retrieved from https://dartmouthlawjournal.org/dljonline/?p=120

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (2014). Road to recovery: Employment and mental illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/Publications-Reports/Public-Policy-Reports/RoadtoRecovery.pdf National Institute of Mental Health (2017). Serious mental illness (SMI) among adults. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/serious-mental-illness-smi-among-us-adults.shtml

Netto, J. A., Yeung, P., Cocks, E., & McNamara, B. (2016). Facilitators and barriers to employment for people with mental illness: A qualitative study. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 44(1), 61–72. doi:10.3233/JVR-150780 Ogurlu, U., & Sevim, M. N. (2017). The opinions of gifted students about leadership training. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 4(2), 41-52. Olson, J. S., Kim, J., & Hwang, J. (2017). “You have enough problems pop up, you start to learn”: Contradictions encountered in learning a new job. International Journal of Adult Vocational Education and Technology, 8(4), 52-67. doi:10.4018/IJAVET.2017100105 Park, S., Kim, J., Park, J., & Lim, D. H. (2018). Work engagement in non-profit organizations: A conceptual model. Human Resource Development Review, 17(1), 5-33. doi:10.1177/1534484317750993 Sanderson, K., & Andrews, G. (2006). Common mental disorders in the workforce: Recent findings from descriptive and social epidemiology. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(2), 63-75. https://doi.org/10.1177/070674370605100202

Shier, M., Graham, J. R., & Jones, M. E. (2009). Barriers to employment as experienced by disabled people: A qualitative analysis in Calgary and Regina, Canada. Disability & Society, 24(1), 63-75. doi:10.1080/09687590802535485 Stuart, H. (2006). Mental illness and employment discrimination. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 19(5), 522-526. doi:10.1097/01.yco.0000238482.27270.5d Tal, A., Moran, G., Rooth, D. O., & Bendick Jr, M. (2009). Using situation testing to document employment discrimination against persons with psychiatric disabilities. Employee Relations Law Journal, 35(3), 82-102.

Tannebaum, R. P. (2015). Preservice social studies teachers’ perspectives and understandings of teaching in the twenty-first century classroom: A meta-ethnography. Journal of Social Studies Education Research, 6(2), 154-176. doi:10.17499/jsser.48097

Tarman, B., & Kılınç, E. (2018). Poetry in the Social Studies Textbooks in Turkey. Journal of Culture and Values in Education, 1(1), 50-62. Retrieved from http://cultureandvalues.org/index.php/JCV/article/view/4

Tarman, B. (2016). Innovation and Education. Research in Social Sciences and Technology, 1(1). Retrieved from http://ressat.org/index.php/ressat/article/view/3

Waghorn, G., & Lloyd, C. (2005). The employment of people with mental illness. Australian E-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health, 4(2), 129–171. doi:10.5172/jamh.4.2.129 Yigit, I. H., & Tatch, A. (2017). Syrian refugees and Americans: Perceptions, attitudes and insights. American Journal of Qualitative Research, 1(1), 13-31.


  • There are currently no refbacks.