|By Kym Klass, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
That was when she was a teenager and worked as an ER registrar for a health insurance company. It was a time when she was consistent in taking her medications, making it possible for Vinsant -- who three decades ago was diagnosed with adolescent bipolar disorder and who had attempted suicide at age 16 -- to work.
Vinsant is one of about 187,000 adults in
"I am severely mentally ill," Vinsant said. "I know that. But I can hold a job, I can work. I can do anything anybody else does. I just have to do what's right for me. And that's take my meds, eat right. You really have to take care of yourself in every manner. You have to get enough rest. You have to keep your stress level down."
About 60 percent of people with mental illness want to work, and two-thirds can successfully hold down a job if they're given appropriate support, the report says.
Yet fewer than 2 percent of people in the public mental health system receive this help, a cost-effective program called supported employment, which has been studied in 20 high-quality clinical trials during the past 25 years.
At what cost?
For people living with mental illness, work can be a critical factor that helps promote health, recovery and social inclusion, according to
This disproportionately high unemployment of people living with mental illness is both unnecessary and very costly, the organization says. The nation pays a high price in loss of productivity, earnings and human potential, as well as in disability benefits and use of public services. An estimated
"We promote employment through our affiliates," said
A mental health advocate, policy analyst and social scientist, the 39-year-old has Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and said her passion in the field is driven by the understanding that "we know what to do, and we should be doing a better job of it. People do not have to live this way. Their lives are unnecessarily difficult because of the way our national mental health system is set up."
"We have been greatly liberated and helped by medications," she said. "But we still suffer as a group from poor access to care and poor care coordination."
Capable of working
Vinsant works at Friendship Mission North -- a homeless shelter for women and children -- as an administrative assistant. She answers the phone, makes the schedules for the kitchen duties, laundry, and the chores. She types memos and greets people as they enter the shelter.
And she has tried quitting several times.
"When I'm not on my medicine and somebody pisses me off, I quit," Vinsant said. "I walk off. I don't care."
It is important, said the shelter's director
"If she sits at home, at her house, her depression level will (get) so bad that she'll be suicidal again," she said. "It's very difficult."
The time Vinsant tried killing herself at 16 was only the first attempt. She tried again when she was 19. The third time was three years ago. Each time was with pills.
"Being on the employer side of it, it is hard when you work with the mentally ill because she is a roller coaster ride," Middleton said. "She has tried to quit here several times. I think sometimes why they can't keep jobs a lot of times is because they will say they can do a lot of things that they really can't do. So they might get hired, but it becomes obvious very quickly that they are not capable of doing that job.
"And then they can't keep the job, or the pressure becomes too much for them. And they quit."
Finding your way
Hinton said she has always had ADHD, but didn't know it.
"We run very high all the time," she said. "We tend to be very intense, and have difficulty focusing unless we try to focus -- that's called hyper focusing. The difficulty I've had is things that are incredibly easy for other people, like finishing something in 20 minutes, we have a hard time switching off all of the world around us. For someone without the disorder, it's not as difficult."
Hinton has found it easier to work her way, from home. On her hours, and in ways that best fit her needs.
"People with mental illness are very bright, very creative," she said. "One thing I've learned about myself is how I work and how I work most effectively. And how I work most effectively is in real intense two- to three-hour bursts. Often, I'll have to divide my day into blocks like that. I'll have to then take a nap at times, or (do) nothing for 15 to 20 minutes.
"I get up in the middle of the night and work for several hours. I just kind of have to go with it. I just have to do it when I can do it. That doesn't tend to work very well for a lot of structured work environments."
A serious epidemic
Vinsant has been drug and alcohol free for almost 17 months, and she is quick to note she does not blame being bipolar for most of these struggles.
"I made choices," she said, "to drink, take drugs. But my bipolar is a part of that. It doesn't define who I am."
Aside from being diagnosed with adolescent bipolar, she was diagnosed as manic depressive at age 15, and with (adult) bipolar when she was 30 years old.
"I have bipolar 1, rapid cycling, one of the worst forms you can have because it's the hardest to control," Vinsant said. "It's a mood disorder. You go from crying to being on a high where you're manic and everything is great and then you go to these deep lows to where you're severely depressed. I can go through those cycles within a day, sometimes within an hour, four or five times.
"They think that it started as an adolescent, because I had separation anxiety when they would send me to my aunt for
"It's a serious epidemic," Middleton said. "We're working with several of them right now, working to get their SSI. What happens a lot with the mentally ill is that they don't have the money to buy their medications. They don't have disability, they can't get a job, and therefore, they can't take their meds."
Vinsant is on disability, and said her goal is to be able to get well enough and stay stable long enough to help others like her.
"People are out there, and they are struggling, and they don't have the support I've had," she said. "And they don't know where to get it. I would love to be an advocate. I dream big."
--The unemployment rate for adults living with mental illness is three to five times higher than for those without mental illness.
--Many people who live with serious mental illness who do work are underemployed; about 70 percent who hold college degrees earn less than
--On average, people who receive SSI benefits have incomes that are just 18.2 percent of the median one-person household income.
--An estimated one-third to one-half of people who live with serious mental illness lives at, or near, the federal poverty level.
Wings Across Alabama, a non-profit organization for consumers of mental health services: 395-7616
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