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…






Wake up call: Are we providing enough support for our students?

Media outlets were covering a story yesterday that really got me thinking. It was based on a census survey report released by the Toronto District School Board that highlighted student perceptions of their experiences at school in a number of areas including:

  • safety
  • teachers
  • extra-curriculars
  • support
  • skills
  • health
  • well-being

TDSB study

Some of the findings are enlightening and positive but others indicate a need for improvement and funding to address critical areas in which we might be failing our teens and leaving them ill-equipped to prepare for the future.

Thankfully this survey has been conducted so that administrators and government can take a closer look at the pressures and realities teens are facing these days and hopefully put measures in place to address them.

A whopping 103,000 students in the Toronto region from grades 7-12 participated in the study. I’ve listed a summary of findings that stood out to me below. I focused mainly on results highlighting the well-being and support aspects of high school students surveyed.

  • 69% feel supported by their teachers
  • 93% feel that school adults treat them the same or better than everyone else


  • 46% do not have a school adult that they feel comfortable to go to for personal support, advice, or help
  • Only 62% feel hopeful about the future
  • 73% are worried about the future
  • 57% sometimes or often lose sleep because of worries
  • 66% report being sometimes or often under a lot of stress
  • 72% report being sometimes or often nervous/anxious

As I mentioned, the above findings are based on high school students’ perceptions, but unfortunately, findings for middle school aged students follow a similar pattern.

Although these findings are pretty dreary, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

First, the Board is collecting this data to inform and address their Mental Health Strategy. I think they will find this data very helpful in establishing policies and guidelines aimed at helping students deal with and overcome some of these issues. I’ll be curious to follow up and learn more about their strategy.

Also, I discovered an excerpt within the report that warmed my heart and made me want to give this student a big hug. It also helps to add some context to the survey results and reminds us that subjective feedback and comments can provide rich information to guide future plans and strategy.

The excerpt I’m referring to (page 52) is from a secondary student’s letter to the Board giving recommendations for improving his/her school environment and experience.

I loved it. It was perfect and I hope the Board considers these suggestions and continues to seek feedback from the students themselves. Here are the student’s recommendations…

  1. make gym class mandatory for every grade
  2. help students learn skills via mandatory or optional credits to help them be successful in the real world, like “people skills, money management, and developing an area of creativity or passion
  3. create a higher standard for teachers – “what is the point of an amazing curriculum if the teacher can’t capture the interest of the student?”
  4. make it mandatory to join at least two extracurricular clubs or teams “real learning exists outside of the classroom…these can all provide lifelong lessons…many students are afraid to join clubs or sports teams because they are insecure about their body or do not know anyone else on the club/team”

What brilliant suggestions. I hope the Board considers them.

What suggestions do you have for supporting students and improving their school experiences?


Continuing the discussion…

Last week’s post is a pretty hot topic due in part to the recent publication of Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Aside from the publicity around the book, the advice shared in this book seems to be resonating with people because it makes sense, it’s proactive, and it’s just an interesting topic that affects a lot of us. I found another article written about it and wanted to share.

In full disclosure, I haven’t read the book yet, but I plan to!

Enjoy and Happy Halloween! (conveniently, the book cover is orange and black!)