Mental Health and Career Planning: Bridging the Gap

What can career development professionals do to improve service and outcomes for clients faced with struggles associated with mental health? This is a frequently underserved population and, unfortunately, job search and career planning services are no exception.

The Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC) has funded a project report to attempt to better understand the stigma associated with mental illness in career counselling clients and has offered some recommendations that can help eliminate critical barriers and address this gaping need.

The report by Neasa Martin, of Neasa Martin & Associates, highlights the fact that a good number of counsellors do not feel prepared or equipped with the proper skills to properly serve, support, and improve access for this population. Further findings from the report indicate:

  •  91% of career practitioners are currently working with clients with mental health issues
  • 46% of career practitioners have personal experience with mental health problems
  • 96% of career practitioners feel that, in order to be effective, they  would need to adopt specific, tailored skills and practices in order to motivate this population
  • 50% of clients with mental health issues feel that their career practitioner does not have the resources or provide the amount of support needed to help them deal with their work-related challenges
  • Both clients and practitioners believe that employers hesitate to hire those with mental illness due to stigma and a lack of understanding of their needs

Clearly, this is big problem. Individuals who want to be employed, and could benefit in many ways from being employed, are being excluded from this social right by factors outside of their control.

Work is such a critical component of one’s identity. It gives us a sense of purpose and provides us with meaningful and motivating goals day in and day out. As much as people gripe and complain about the daily hassles of work, when that “privilege” is denied, their well-being, productivity, and self-esteem can suffer and the lack of routine and purpose can be downright harmful at both personal and societal levels.

The benefits of employment for those affected by mental illness are obvious. And it is clear that career practitioners play a critical role in helping those with mental illness participate productively within their communities.

So, what can we do to help?

  •  Ensure consistent collaboration and dialogue between career practitioners and mental health professionals and related services
  • Partner with researchers and private organizations who can investigate, research, and develop training tools for career practitioners
  • Tailor education and training programs to help budding practitioners better understand this population and learn specific strategies to accommodate them, as well as identify when to refer a client to a mental health professional
  • Distribute resources and tools to practitioners to help them understand the need, and ensure that their clients can access the proper supports and services
  • Advocate for better government policies and funding aimed at providing equal access to training and employment services for people with mental health issues
  • Educate, support, and provide the proper tools for employers to dispel the myths and combat the stigma, misunderstanding, and fear associated with hiring individuals with mental health issues
  • Learn more: read this report for further recommendations by the Mental Health Commission of Canada

For many of us, job hunting and career planning are difficult, stressful, and time consuming tasks, but for some, the challenges can be compounded by the complexities of mental illness.

For a personal perspective on this, read Alison’s story to better understand the struggles faced by those suffering from mental illness who are trying to enter and remain in the workplace.

Hopefully this CERIC report and other similar reports and research studies can help shed some light on this important issue and encourage more people to weigh in on how we can address this need and bridge this gap to improve service and equal employment rights for those suffering from a mental illness. Please share your own ideas and stories…





Guest Post: Future Tense by Marc Verhoeve, MEd

I’m happy to share another excellent blog post by contributor Marc Verhoeve. As you’ll recall, Marc has experience in the full spectrum of career-practitioner roles…as a secondary-school counsellor and department head, part-time university faculty, private career-practitioner, career-assessment consultant and trainer, conference-presenter and author. His latest contribution touches on a topic of great personal interest to me, and coincidentally blends nicely with some of the research we’ve been working on around here…look for more on this topic in future blog posts.


In 1986, I authored an article, entitled Future Tense – An Open Letter to High School Students. It was published in the journal of UCPA [University College Placement Association].  In the introduction to the article, I stated:

“As you travel through your high school years, you experience pressure from all sides (parents, teachers, friends) to make the “right choice” about your future. The constant question is, “What do you wanna be?” At the same time, newspapers and television bombard you with horror stories about massive unemployment. As a result, you become what I call “future-tense,” and make decisions about your career on the spur of the moment based on minimal information. What I am describing here occurs all too frequently in Canadian high schools.”

After 27 years, the secondary-school scenario has not changed [except now we have the internet inundating us with data]. In fact, the financial dimension of this scenario has increased dramatically.  Current research projects that the cost of post-secondary education for a child born in 2013 will be double the cost of the present college degree/diploma.

This creates the pressure on adolescents [and parents] to make the right career decision…and the concomitant necessary post-secondary education.  There are two underlying issues that have to be addressed:

  1.  Adolescents make future job-decisions on a narrow scope of the world of work.  The average adolescent has a faint knowledge of 50 occupations and a good knowledge of about a dozen occupations [usually from direct exposure from relatives, friends and neighbours]….and there are over 10,000 occupational titles out there!  That is why it is essential that adolescents use other exploratory tools such as career assessments [e.g., JCE], cooperative-education credits, and job shadowing.  While career-assessments do not guarantee the “perfect fit” [there is no career-decision pill called Careerinol], they dramatically focus one’s job-search.  I frequently make the analogy of hunger.  If you are hungry, you could go to a local supermarket and try every food on every shelf.  This quest would take a lifetime.  The career assessment tool narrows this search to a section of one aisle, which is a more palatable task.
  2. There is not a specific age when one becomes totally aware of the dimensions of one’s skills, interests, values and personality.  This is a lifelong process.  The adolescent may not have a true sense of their self-image until they have left the parental home.  For this reason, more adolescents are considering a gap-year after secondary school before embarking on formal education. This self-awareness will also evolve with more life-experience.  In my career-practitioner role, I have assisted clients at all three career stages: career-start [adolescence], career-transition [middle-age], and career-renewal [retirees].  During these evolutionary stages, most of them had five or more job titles [most in the same work sector].  There are a small minority who could have predicted these job roles later in life.  In some cases, their present job did not even exist when they were in secondary school.

There is no question that there is a “fear factor” in career decision-making that can make one “future-tense”.  The road to career-fulfillment will probably have some detours of new self-awakening, but the ‘perfect job’ will not appear immediately…and our definition of our perfect job will evolve as we travel through life’s career journey.