Stigma, discrimination, and lack of support are real barriers to employment for people with schizophrenia. However, with treatment and support, people with the condition may be able to manage their symptoms and perform meaningful work.
Working may offer many benefits to people with severe mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.
This article describes how schizophrenia can affect work. It also explores stigma and other barriers to work that people with the condition may face.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that involves the presence of hallucinations and delusions. When symptoms are present, they can significantly affect a person’s ability to think clearly, process reality, and behave in accordance with social norms.
Working may help with general and mental health and well-being. Research suggests that people with schizophrenia who are in employment may be less likely to experience symptom relapse.
According to one 2015 study, up to 90% of people with schizophrenia want to work. However, only around 10–25% have jobs. Other studies also suggest the unemployment rates of people with mental conditions such as schizophrenia range from
According to some estimates, 1 in 4 people will recover after experiencing one or more episodes of schizophrenia. The rest will have lasting symptoms, with half of these experiencing negative symptoms, including:
- flat affect, which is an absence of emotions
- a loss of interest in activities
- social withdrawal
- psychomotor issues, including slowed speech and decreased movement
- reductions in speech and thought
The other half may experience chronic positive symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, and formal thought disorders.
The Disability Benefits Center states that when schizophrenia symptoms are severe and unmanaged, they can make it difficult for a person to adapt to a work environment.
According to the Disability Benefits Centre, a person’s capacity to perform physical work largely depends on their ability to perform certain functions without assistance. People who require more support are less likely to remain gainfully employed.
It states that while hallucinations do not prevent a person from performing manual work such as pushing and lifting, experiencing this symptom may make it difficult to distinguish reality from nonreality and may make many physical forms of work potentially dangerous.
Psychotic symptoms such as paranoia may also lead to unusual or socially inappropriate behavior, attention deficits, and avoidance of people or situations.
Some people with schizophrenia may experience catatonia, which makes it impossible to work.
Myths about schizophrenia that employers and community members may believe can also make it difficult for people with the condition to find or keep a job. For example, a 2016 study suggests some people believe the myth that people with schizophrenia are not interested in or incapable of working effectively, and this is a significant barrier to their employment.
However, the Disability Benefits Centre points out that symptom severity and management vary widely from one person to the next and that people with different schizophrenia symptoms may not experience any difficulty performing physical work.
Some schizophrenia symptoms can influence a person’s ability to think clearly, affecting:
- working and semantic memory
- task shifting ability
- processing speed
- executive functioning, which includes problem-solving and judgment
Experiencing these cognitive effects may prevent a person from focusing on their job and cause technology-based difficulties.
Because jobs that require a person to sit for long periods often require greater concentration, sedentary work is often more difficult than physical work for people who experience difficulties with focusing.
Formal thought disorders, another symptom of schizophrenia, also cause disturbances in the expression and organization of thought.
When experiencing this symptom, a person may have trouble creating and expressing logical thought in speech or writing, making it difficult to perform in social situations or a work environment.
Aside from symptoms, people with schizophrenia face other barriers to employment.
Research suggests that self-stigma associated with having a mental condition may negatively influence a person’s will to resume work after recovery. This self-stigma may lead to low self-esteem or feelings of shame and hopelessness.
Other barriers to work for people with schizophrenia include:
- discrimination from employers
- lack of a supportive work environment
- difficulty finding support and care during recovery
- avoid work
- keep mental health conditions a secret from their employers
- experience work-related stress
- leave a job after only a short time
Strategies for managing work while living with schizophrenia may include the following:
Getting effective treatment
Treatments for schizophrenia may offer symptom relief and improvement.
Doctors advise that people taking medications follow dosage instructions and continue taking prescriptions even when they feel better. Stopping medications is a
It is best for people to ask a doctor about medication interactions and potential side effects that may affect their work. For example, some drugs can make a person drowsy.
Experts also advise that people with the condition engage in psychotherapy or avail of psychiatric services. Mental health professionals may be able to help a person with their job search.
Engaging in self-care
People with schizophrenia may have a
Eating a balanced diet and exercising daily may help reduce their risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Quitting smoking, if applicable
According to a 2019 article, a person with schizophrenia may be three times more likely to smoke, and smoking may increase the risk of developing psychotic symptoms.
Avoiding drugs and alcohol
Alcohol and drug use are common in people with schizophrenia. However, having an alcohol use disorder may
Finding social and family support
Supportive relationships with family, friends, and other people with schizophrenia or other mental health conditions may allow people to share work-related experiences and challenges.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents employers from asking for details about a person’s disability, including its nature or severity. Employers cannot discriminate against a qualified person based on their disability.
The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to enable people to perform the job’s essential functions and enjoy the privileges of employment as someone without disabilities would.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects federal government employees from disability discrimination.
The United Nations also has a work and employment document that outlines the rights of people with disabilities.
Just like someone without schizophrenia, no particular job type perfectly suits a person with the condition.
However, it is important to consider a person’s symptoms and other factors, such as their energy levels, the body clock, and travel time, when determining whether a job is a good fit.
Jobs that offer flexibility can help people adapt during days when symptoms may make work more challenging.
People may also wish to consider looking for a job suited to their:
- educational and vocational qualifications
- previous work experiences
It may be best to focus on jobs they do well and find fulfilling while avoiding highly stressful positions.
If necessary, vocational rehabilitation programs may be able to help people with severe mental health conditions gain and maintain competitive employment.
People can join support groups through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to connect with others with similar experiences if they wish. NAMI also has a list of organizations that may help a person with schizophrenia find employment.
Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about working with schizophrenia.
Can schizophrenia stop you from getting a job?
Many people with schizophrenia can manage their condition and hold a job.
However, depending on the severity of a person’s symptoms, schizophrenia may limit their ability to find and maintain gainful employment. People with severe or unmanaged symptoms may find obtaining or keeping a job difficult. Other barriers, such as discrimination, may also affect this.
Can someone with schizophrenia live a “normal” life with medication?
Medications and other treatments can help manage schizophrenia symptoms, enabling a person with the condition to lead a fulfilling and productive life.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that can significantly affect a person’s ability to work. While different laws aim to protect people with disabilities from discrimination, barriers to employment, such as stigma and symptoms, can still prevent people from being gainfully employed.
With effective treatment, many people with schizophrenia can lead satisfying lives and find work. Several organizations can also help people find a suitable and supportive workplace.
When looking for a job, it may be best for people with schizophrenia to consider flexible and adaptable work situations and jobs that match their skills, interests, and needs.