The Aspiring Workforce – Employment and Income for People with Serious Mental Illness

Over 60 years ago, a profound shift took place with regards to mental illness in Canada. The perception that people with mental illness were violent, helpless, or a risk to society began to be questioned. Soon the foundations of an old system that had treated people as second class citizens, taken away their rights, and relied on long periods of institutionalization began to crumble. In 1963, the CMHA’s seminal work More for the Mind redefined mental illness as “an illness like any other.” With this new vision, long-stay mental hospitals began to appear anachronistic, and indeed, actively harmful to their patients. The ideal became to move treatment into general hospitals and outpatient programs. Deinstitutionalization swept across Canada, and by the mid1970s there were massive closures of inpatient beds and even entire mental hospitals. Closures eventually topped 70% of all designated hospital beds for the mentally ill. The new approach recognized that people with mental illness have the capacity to live in the community, although exactly how they should be supported to do so was not fully specified. It began to be recognized that mental illness isnot all-encompassing and all-defining, and it became more common to hear someone described as a person with a mental illness rather than as a mental patient. Capacity was increasingly recognized in clinical work, and many people with mental illness began to prove that they could be successful in community life, resourceful, and able to take care of themselves even in difficult situations.