The role of work in the lives of people with mental health problems

Work, in our cultural context, plays a central role in the attribution of social status. This is even more true for people with mental health problems, for which inclusion in a work environment helps to shift their status from that of a "sick person" to a "worker". The current labor market, characterized by job insecurity and an increased focus on productivity, makes it even harder to enter and maintain employment for people with mental health problems who may experience a greater feeling of insecurity and work-related stress. In Italy, mental health services often play an important role not only in the therapeutic process of the user, but also in their path to social inclusion and employment. The aim of this paper is to describe the characteristics of the work that people who use these services have access to and investigate the meaning that work plays in their lives. The research was carried out by the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the Italian National Research Council. It was part of a larger project commissioned by the Municipality of Rome, involving 26 semi-residential mental health day centers, that from 2005 to 2008 promoted the employment of 111 users. It performed and analysed an ad-hoc questionnaire and 12 in-depth interviews with service users inserted into paid employment. The research shows that most people who attend mental health day centers are working part-time in social enterprises, with a net monthly salary that, in 77% of cases, does not exceed EUR 600. For all respondents, work seemed to have a central role in their lives, representing a demarcation line between a past condition characterized for example by malaise, lack of motivation and a sedentary lifestyle and the present condition characterized by greater self-confidence and better relationships with others. Nevertheless, dissatisfaction with the economic aspect of their work is common among these people and they are not able to fulfill the expectations of entirely independent living. For people who work in social enterprises, the economic dissatisfaction is soothed, at least in part, by the social utility of the work.

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Contributo in atti di convegno
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Congrès des cinq continents, pp. 18–18, Lione, 19-22 ottobre 2011
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ISTC Author: 
Ritratto di Elisa Colì
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