, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 163-176

Living with chronic mental illness: Understanding the role of work

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This paper is based upon an exploratory study designed to examine the role of work within the lives of those with severe, persistent mental illness (SPMI). Indepth, open ended interviews were conducted with a small number of consumers (n=10) who attend a clubhouse for those with SPMI where emphasis is placed upon preparation for work. Given that little is known about how work impinges upon or enriches the lives of consumers we asked consumers about their experience of mental illness and work throughout their life trajectories. This paper describes these work experiences, the effect of mental illness and treatment compliance upon their ability to work, and the relationship of work to stress. We found that in general some kind of meaningful activity was important to these consumers, but many had found work experiences to be stressful and were cautious about their subsequent abilities to sustain meaningful employment. We suggest that subsequent research needs to examine the nature of the work environment, and that work environments may be usefully distinguished in terms of level of expressed emotion.

Paper presented at the Society for the Study of Scientific Problems Annual Meetings, Miami, Florida (August 10–12) 1993. The authors wish to thank Bruce Link for his helpful commentary on this earlier draft, Ellen Jane Hollingsworth for her review and support and the comments of two anonymous reviewers although we accept responsibility for the conclusions offered. We would also like to acknowledge the research assistance provided by Candice Cherrybone.
Dr. Scheid is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is currently on academic leave in order to complete a NIMH postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (until August 1994). Cliff Anderson is Director of the Psychosocia1 Rehabilitation Program, Continuing Care Division of the Mecklenberg County Area Mental Health Program.