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Work and Schizophrenia

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023

Schizophrenia is most often diagnosed in early adulthood. These are prime years for starting a career. Soon after diagnosis, when symptoms may not be well controlled, working may not be an option. But once a person feels more comfortable with how to treat and manage their symptoms, they may want to work.1,2

For those who do want to work, there are options for workplace support. For those who do not currently work and need financial help, there are options for disability resources.3

Making the decision to work

The decision of whether or not to work is a personal one. It depends on the symptoms you are having, the treatment you are taking, your financial need, and more. Some people may not feel comfortable returning to work. Doing whatever feels best in your situation is the most important thing.

Barriers to working

Some people may want to work but their symptoms make it difficult to do so. For example, a person may have worked as a truck driver before their schizophrenia diagnosis. Now, hallucinations or problems concentrating might make it hard to drive safely. Because schizophrenia symptoms can be so broad, it can become harder to do many types of jobs.1

There is also stigma around schizophrenia. It is often portrayed in the media in a negative light. Because of this, employers may think people with schizophrenia are violent, out of control, or unable to live on their own. But this is not the case.1,2,4

It is true that episodes of psychosis (the active phase of schizophrenia) can be hard to predict. But many people with schizophrenia are treating their symptoms and can do any number of things they choose to purse. They are perfectly capable of finding work they find fulfilling.1,4

Supported employment programs

Part of a well-rounded schizophrenia treatment plan includes psychosocial methods. These methods include therapy, peer counseling, social skills training, and more. One common type of psychosocial treatment is called supported employment.5,6

These are community programs that help people work on the skills they need to succeed at a job. The programs also help with interviewing and securing jobs. Supported employment follows people with schizophrenia to help them keep their jobs long-term, too.5,6

The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has resources for people with schizophrenia looking for jobs. And the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has information for anyone dealing with workplace accommodations and employment issues. They provide free counseling by phone at 800-526-7234.7

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people in the United States with accessibility issues or disabilities. This law covers several situations. It states that a person cannot be asked about their disability in the workplace setting. It also says that employers cannot refuse to hire or discriminate against someone based on their disability.8

The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable workplace accommodations, too. This allows people with accessibility issues to do their job and enjoy benefits just like anyone else working at the same place.8

Applying for disability benefits

If working is not right for you, even with accommodations, disability benefits may be helpful. Social Security disability benefits provide financial support to those who are unable to work due to a health issue. The federal government has a set of requirements when it comes to qualifying and applying for these benefits.3

The Blue Book is a resource that describes who qualifies for these benefits. You must have certain health issues, symptoms, and medical documentation that proves you are unable to work. If you do not have a specific condition listed in the Blue Book but have symptoms that make it hard to work, you may still qualify.9

The Social Security Administration might ask you to show documents proving that you are a US citizen or lawful resident. You also will need to prove your age, ideally with a birth certificate. Before you apply, make sure you understand and collect all the necessary documents to make the process as smooth as possible.3,10

Getting approval can take several months, even with the best documentation. You may also need to provide extra information or do an interview to complete the process.3,10

You can apply for benefits online or by phone at 1-800-772-1213. A disability lawyer can be helpful in this process. A great place to start for support is with your healthcare team. Your doctor’s office may have a case manager or social worker who can help you start the application process.3,11

Types of disability benefits

There are a few types of disability benefits offered by the federal government.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is for insured workers and some of their family members. This includes people who have previously paid into Social Security. Generally, this means an employer took money out of their paycheck to give to Social Security.11,12

SSDI benefits have a waiting period of 5 months. So, payments will not start until the sixth month after a person has officially qualified. There are very few exceptions to this waiting period.11,12

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is based on income. It is for people with lower income who may not have paid into Social Security. In addition to your health information, the decision for SSI will factor in your living arrangements and personal resources. SSI benefits are paid starting the first full month after you file a claim for support or become eligible.12

Disabled Adult Child (DAC)

DAC is for people who become disabled before they turn 22 years old. They must also have at least 1 parent who has paid into Social Security. The application is based on the parent’s income and employment history. The child seeking support does not need to have worked in the past. This can be helpful for people with schizophrenia diagnosed as teenagers or young adults.12

The type of support each person qualifies for may be different. It can also be a long process to receive approval. You can find many resources online or at your doctor’s office to help with navigating the benefits process.

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