Employment for people with mental illnesses?

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

The Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit held a workshop this week to discuss the employability of persons with mental illnesses.

The workshop was held at the Belize Institute of Management, in collaboration with Disability Aid Abroad, an international organization which looks after the rights of mentally ill persons in many areas.

The session brought together stakeholders such as the Labour Department, Social Security Board, and the Human Rights Commission. Participants discussed case studies from other countries with the goal of formulating working modules for employing the mentally ill, which are tailored to the Belizean reality.

Carey Ann Clarke, advocate with Disability Aid Abroad, explained that due to the varying degrees of mental illness many patients are employable. However due to societal stigma they are not given the opportunity to enter the work force.
“My organization works to look after the rights of mentally disabled people in many areas. One of the most fundamental of those rights is the right to employment and being able to provide for their families.”

Elenore Bennett, nursing administrator at the MHU, explained that Belize is lacking in terms of structures in place to allow for hiring of mentally ill persons, including support systems and legislation. She added that the session will serve as the first in a series, which aims to identify what barriers exist in Belize and begin drafting up the necessary support systems.

“One of the things we will be looking at down the road is subsidy or a tax break for employers who hire the mentally disabled, as a kind of incentive for them to be inclusive.”

The MHU is also considering the creation of a “Job Coach” position for the mentally ill, to act as a medium between the person and the employer. The MHU also held a session this week for the mentally ill who are employable, to discuss topics such as preparing resumés and on the job behaviour.

According to Nurse Bennett, the MHU intends to involve the trade unions and the private sector as the sessions progress in the coming months.

Disability aid abroad has worked on employability of disabled persons in countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, east Africa and Sudan. Their involvement was sourced through a mental illness support group in San Ignacio.

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