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In northeastern Ontario, an occupational therapy research study looked at how accessible employment was for individuals with serious mental illness. The study found that northern communities lacked employment services, and this affected employment rates in the area. The OT study also found that low employment among people with mental illness was a result of lack of best employment practices for this group and not enough understanding about the abilities of people with mental illness.
The OT leading the study learned through a series of interviews and Town Hall forums that community-wide strategies were likely to be more effective than individual efforts in helping people with mental illness find and maintain employment.
The OT invited key people from the community and the region to take part in an employment advisory committee. The purpose of this advisory was to provide supported employment services to remote and rural areas, to educate on employment practices for people with mental illness, and to provide an ongoing network for sharing knowledge.
The group also applied to the Ontario Disability Support Program for a special project grant and hosted a conference, called Without Labels, on promoting the employment rights of people in northeastern Ontario with mental illness. This conference welcomed over 100 participants from throughout the northeast and provided a place to share knowledge, network, and work on next steps.
This community development project has led to a better understanding of the abilities of people with mental illness, and effective employment strategies for this group.
The project also brought together key partners from health, social services, and municipal sectors, who look at ways to ensure that funded employment policies and programs are helpful to people with mental illness. Their ongoing efforts have improved employment rates in the region.