Welcome to Project OPEN!
In 2011, through a project funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Mental Health America of Oregon began to build a network of Peer Employment
Specialists in Oregon.
From 2011 through 2013, 15 peer staff and volunteers at 9 different sites throughout Oregon received in-person and webinar based training to provide employment supports to other peers at their home sites.These sites included peer-run drop-in centers, peer programs within traditional mental health agencies, and other peer groups.
To date, over 300 peers have received employment supports due to the Oregon Peer Employment Network.
PEER EMPLOYMENT SPECIALIST TRAINING PROGRAM GOALS
1. To teach individuals who have lived experiences with mental health challenges the information and skills that will enable them to provide high quality supports to their peers with similar lived experiences in the area of job and career planning.
2. To build a networks of Peer Employment Specialists in Oregon and nationally.
PRINCIPLES OF THE PEER EMPLOYMENT SPECIALIST MODEL
1. Employment that is a good fit to a peer’s strengths and interests can promote his or her recovery.
2. Peers can offer effective employment supports to their peers, in many cases more effectively than people who do not have lived experiences.
Meaningful work can promote:
- Financial independence
- Pursuit of new and greater challenges
- Social interaction
- A sense of responsibility
- Personal growth
- Increased self-esteem
- An expanding personal identity
EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME FOR PEERS
- The unemployment rate for adults living with mental health challenges is three to five times higher than for those without mental illness.
Many people who live with long-term mental health issues who do work are underemployed; about 70 percent who hold college degrees earn less than $10 per
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 significant mental health challenges lives at, or near, the federal poverty level.
SOME REASONS FOR LOW EMPLOYMENT RATES IN THE PEER COMMUNITY
- Peers have been told for many years that they shouldn’t work—it will make their mental health issues worse.
- Peers who have worked have been encouraged and/or “placed” in jobs which do not promote their recovery—often low level food service and cleaning jobs which are low paid and offer little advancement.
- Some peers have had negative experiences in working these jobs, including the lack of understanding and support of coworkers.
- Many employers have fear of/hold stigma about hiring applicants and accommodating/retaining employees with mental health issues.
- Some peers lack education and skills needed to obtain “quality” jobs.
- Many peers fear losing Social Security benefits, medical insurance and access to services.