Article Details

Research Database: Article Details

Citation:  Schindler, V. P. & Kientz, M. (2013). Supports and barriers to higher education and employment for individuals diagnosed with mental illness. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 39 (1), 29-42.
Title:  Supports and barriers to higher education and employment for individuals diagnosed with mental illness
Authors:  Schindler, V. P. & Kientz, M.
Year:  2013
Journal/Publication:  Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation
Publisher:  IOS Press
DOI:  https://doi.org/10.3233/JVR-130640
Full text:  https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-vocational-rehabil...   
Peer-reviewed?  Yes
NIDILRR-funded?  Not reported

Structured abstract:

Background:  Individuals diagnosed with mental illness commonly face difficulties in achieving goals in higher education and employment. Early onset-psychiatric illness prevents millions of individuals in the United States from graduating from college. The college withdrawal rate for individuals with mental illness is over 40% higher than that of the general student population. Unemployment rates for individuals with psychiatric disabilities range from 60%-80%. Psychiatric disabilities accounts for the highest rate of unemployment among any group of individuals with disabilities. The continuing of post-secondary education and entrance into the workforce is often disrupted for individuals with mental illness, as typical onset of psychiatric illness occurs between late adolescence and early adulthood.
Purpose:  The purpose of this study is to look at supports and barriers to higher education and employment for individuals with mental illness, who were participating in the Bridge Program, a program focused on higher education and employment goals. The study used qualitative and quantitative reports to examine the supports and barriers, based on reports of the individuals.
Setting:  This study takes place as part of the Bridge Program, which was started in 2005. This occupational therapy program uses principles of supported education and supported employment. The program completed its 7th year in 2012. The program is designed for individuals diagnosed with mental illness who want to start, return to, or continue higher education. The college’s office for students with disabilities and mental health agencies in the community referred participants.
Study sample:  The sample for this study consists of 48 adults who participated in the Bridge Program for a minimum of one semester during the first four academic years of the program (2005-2009). Thirty-one females and seventeen males participated in the study. Ages of participants were grouped in ten year intervals, with participants in their twenties through their sixties. Participants reported being diagnosed with their primary diagnosis from 6 months to three years ago through more than 20 years prior. 59% of the participants were white, 29% were African American, 8% Hispanic, 2% were Asian, and 2% were Native American. The primary diagnosis of the participants was bipolar disorder, with 42% of the sample reporting this diagnosis. 33% of participants reported a diagnosis of schizophrenia and 25% of participants reported major depressive disorder.
Data collection and analysis:  Individuals who had participated in the Bridge Program for a minimum of 1 semester between the 2005 and 2009 academic years were invited to participate in a focus group. The participants were invited to one of four focus groups. The focus groups were three hour sessions, with the following agenda: a 45 minute welcome with a questionnaire, a 1.5 hour focus group, and the final 45 minutes were to serve a light buffet. In the focus group discussions only first names were used and the groups were audio recorded. Participants received at $25.00 stipend for attending the focus group and answering the questionnaire, while participants who only completed the questionnaire received $10.00 stipends. IBM SPSS Statistics version 19.0 on the demographic data and the Bridge Program Follow Up Questionnaire were use to collect the quantitative data. The qualitative data was collected from the focus groups. The audio recordings from the sessions were transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were then read and coded according to the initial codes based off of the Bridge Program Follow-Up questionnaire. The coded information was then grouped into ‘chunks’. The chunked information was then formatted into a table. The information was then grouped to form smaller themes. The analyzed data was then reviewed by two researchers with substantial experience in qualitative data analysis.
Findings:  Of the 48 participants, 19 completed the questionnaire, but did not attend a focus group, while 29 were able to complete the questionnaire and attend a focus group. The demographics of the study sample were reported by participants in the questionnaires. Participants’ enrollment in higher education increased from 15% to 23% from the pre-test to post-test measures. Participants’ employed increased from 10% to 40% from pre-test to post-test and higher education combined with employment increased from 25% to 63% from pre-test to post-test. Eighteen supports to higher education and employment were reported by participants in the questionnaires. 8 were specific to higher education and 8 specific to employment, with 10 shared by both. The mean number of supports per participant was 9.8. Twenty-four barriers for higher education were reported by participants in the questionnaires. 6 were specific to higher education and 6 specific to employment, with 18 shared by both. The mean number of barriers per participant was 4.25. The mean number of supports for both higher education and employment was greater than the mean number of barriers for each category. Supports external to the individual were most commonly reported by participants. Support services from an educational institution was reported 21%, programs and agencies 15%, and family and friends were reported 15%. External supports were also reported in terms of employment with family and friends 26% and programs/agencies 21%. The internal support commonly reported was faith and prayer with 21%. Mental illness was reported as the biggest barrier for participants in terms of higher education with 42%. Negative self-perceptions was commonly reported as a barrier for both employment and higher education, with 42% of participants reporting this barrier.
Conclusions:  This study concluded common themes among supports and barriers to higher education and employment for individuals diagnosed with mental illness. Supports reported for both higher education and employment were often external to the individual. This study expanded upon previous research as both a quantitative and qualitative methodology were used, supports and barriers were included, as were both higher education and employment. The majority of previous studies only included some of the previously mentioned components. The study found that both internal and external supports were reported by individuals with mental illness, but that most barriers reported were internal. One limitation of the study is the reliance of self-reporting in order to collect the data. The researchers tried to minimize the limitations of self-reports by the questionnaires and return method promoting anonymity. The small sample size is an additional limitation of the study. The study concludes that a client-centered approach is beneficial to individuals diagnosed with mental illness for higher education and employment.

Disabilities served:  Bi-polar
Depression
Schizophrenia
Populations served:  Gender: Female and Male
Race: Asian
Race: Black / African American
Race: White / Caucasian
Ethnicity: Hispanic or Latino
Ethnicity: Not Hispanic or Latino
Post-secondary