By Cara Miller
Arizona Daily Wildcat
For most college students, finding the job of their dreams is challenging.
For "Janice," the prospect seems next to impossible.
Janice is not only looking for a job that she enjoys; she is also trying to find an employer willing to hire someone with a mental illness.
But with the help of Project Employ, a program sponsored by the community rehabilitation division at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, the outlook is positive.
Since January 1992, Project Employ has helped mental health patients find jobs they are interested in, and has assisted them in keeping those jobs. The project has also been successful in enrolling them in UA and Pima Community College.
While Janice is not a student, she has used Project Employ to build a resume. Until she came to the project, Janice had never worked. After joining the program, she worked at one job for over a year and now volunteers at the YMCA. Eventually she wants to be a floral arranger and plans to take classes at PCC to learn.
"I enjoy making something that looks beautiful and that other people can enjoy," she said. "It's a real feeling of accomplishment to know that you can make something that other people would enjoy having."
The project is contracted with the Arizona Center for Clinical Management to provide help in resume writing, interviewing skills, and ongoing employment support.
"We try to assist them in developing routines that you and I take for granted in defining who and what we are," said Michael Shafer, project coordinator and clinical assistant professor.
Shafer said mental patients face stigma and discrimination when trying to find a job.
"They live under the veil of fear that if they let the cat out of the bag they are going to be ostracized," he said.
Program coordinator Robin Fain agreed and said self-esteem is another issue support counselors deal with.
"A lot of patients come here with low self-esteem because they were on the track to bigger and better things when the disease hit," she said.
According to Shafer, mental illness occurs most frequently in late adolescence and early adulthood.
He said approximately 40 percent of their 30 to 35 patients suffer from schizophrenia. The remaining 60 percent is made up of manic depressives and those with personality disorders.
Project Employ is the only program in Tucson that is available 24 hours a day. They are also the only program that has a defined supportive education program.
Fain said the project assists in enrollment, finding tutors, and stress management.
They also have four different support groups, three of which center around job services. One is designed specifically for those who have college degrees and professional skills.
"This is one of the hardest areas," said Tom Saunders, a career services specialist. "We talk about how it is to be underemployed or how hard it is to find a job in their field."
"One of our patients was a college professor, but now cannot find work because of his illness," he said.
Shafer said about 30 percent of the patients are college graduates and can only find employment in entry to mid-level positions.
"It is difficult to get them back into positions comparable with their skill level," he said.
Shafer said the most important service Project Employ can provide is to give the members a sense of "yes, I can."
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