Welcome to Project OPEN!
This site is dedicated to all things related to employment, especially for those who experience mental health challenges. In the Resources, Related Articles & Links, and Tools for Peer Employment Specialists pages, you should find enough resources and information that will help you with your own employment goals or help you as you support other peers with their employment goals. Although some of the resources found in this site are based in Oregon, there are many that are national resources. And the tools and information found here are generally universal, making this site a great source regardless of the state you reside.
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.
Since 2011 peers representing sites throughout Oregon continue to receive in-person and webinar based training to provide employment supports to other peers in their communities. The sites they represent include independent peer-run orgnanizations, peer programs within traditional mental health provider agencies, and other peer groups.
The Peer Employment Specialists have proven to be valuable members of service and support teams and assets to their communities as they provide much needed employment supports to fellow peers. And involvement with the Oregon Peer Employment Network fosters exchange of information and expertise so the supports they provide continue to improve.
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.