If I told you I had diabetes, would you hire me to work for you? What if I told you I had schizophrenia? While most employers would not hesitate to hire a qualified candidate knowing that he or she required daily doses of insulin, many would think twice if they knew that same person needed an antipsychotic medication. This is the sad reality for many area residents who are desperately seeking jobs, but whose rÈsumÈs are blotted by the stigma of mental illness. Common conditions include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and various combinations. These are not illnesses anyone wishes for or chooses. Like cancer or heart disease, they are biologically-based disorders that require proper medical treatment, recovery time and ongoing care and support.
According to Ruth Halpin, employment coach for the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), meaningful work is a vital step toward wellness, but jobs can be hard to come by. That's where her job comes in. Citing a 2003 health care report, she points out that people with mental illness have one of the lowest rates of employment of any group with disabilities; only one in three is employed. "It's really sad. It's a struggle," she said.
Most of the people Ruth works with are college graduates and many have had successful careers prior to their mental illness, she explained. She helps them evaluate their skills, re-write their rÈsumÈs, fill out applications and connect with potential employers. Her greatest challenge? "Finding a good match between a person's abilities, skills and interests and finding an employer who is understanding."
Once employment is secured, Ruth follows up on a weekly basis, keeping in touch with the physician and making sure that the situation is mutually beneficial to both employee and employer. "People with mental illnesses often don't cope well with stress," she explained. "There are all different levels, and it depends on the person. It's a balancing act." For those who cannot hold a full- or part-time job or for people who wish to do something extra, she identifies special projects and volunteer opportunities within the community.
Ruth, who moved here last November, found her part-time position at NAMI through a newspaper ad. Her qualifications include master's degrees in both public speaking and counseling, years of college level teaching experience and some volunteer experience with NAMI in Indianapolis. While her communication and counseling skills are essential, it is her empathy that makes the difference. See it in her eyes, hear it in her voice and feel it in her spirit as she goes out of her way to help every individual who crosses her path. If human compassion were an Olympic sport, Ruth Halpin would hold the world record.
Did you know?
. In any given year, more than five million Americans will suffer from
. One in every five families is affected by severe mental illness.
. Severe mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes or
. Mental illness is treatable, and recovery is possible!
NAMI is a grassroots, self-help support and advocacy organization, dedicated to improving the lives of people and families who are affected by severe mental illnesses. The local chapter offers support groups, educational meetings, newsletters, advocacy, housing, resources and referral. If you or someone you love is suffering with mental illness, please contact NAMI for free information. Call (843) 681-2200 or visit on the Web at www.nami.org.
On October 18, 2008, NAMI Beaufort County will host its 5th annual fundraising barbecue and auction. Tickets are $25, and volunteers and auction items are needed. For more information regarding this and other fundraising events, membership, donations or volunteer opportunities, call (843) 681-2200.
Born in: London, England Grew up in: Chicago Moved to Hilton Head Island from: Indianapolis Family: husband, Roger; two adult children, Lisa and Kirk Describes herself as: friendly, outgoing, helpful When not working, find her: painting, gardening, walking on the beach, reading or playing canasta.