WASHINGTON, July 10 (UPI) -- As employment numbers for the rest of the country have slowly improved in recent years, more and more adults with serious mental illness find themselves unable to find or keep a job.
According to a new study published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 80 percent of adults suffering from serious mental illness are unemployed. That despite the fact that -- according to mental health experts at NAMI -- the majority of adults with mental illnesses want to work, and six in 10 can work with the proper support.
According to the new report, 23 percent of mentally ill adults were employed in 2003. In 2012, that number it was 17.8 percent, and it appears to be dropping further.
"It isn't surprising," Sita Diehl, director of state policy at NAMI and lead author of the new report told the Washington Post. "We knew that mental health services really took it on the chin during the recession. Employment rates had already been dismal to begin with, and when the supports were eroded, people with mental illness lost support and lost jobs."
Of the 50 U.S. states, Maine's unemployment rate among people with mental illnesses was highest, at 92.6 percent. The rest of the worst five states -- West Virginia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and California -- are all at 90 percent and above.
"NAMI wants states to make a commitment to help people with mental illness to recover," said Mary Giliberti, the organization's executive director. "Work is a critical part of recovery. As a nation, we still have a long way to go in recognizing that linkage."
Despite the disheartening report, Diehl is hopeful that things will turn a corner as the economy continues to improve and health reforms better protect those with preexisting conditions, including mental illness. But she says to really forge change, individual states need to bolster their employment assistance programs for people with mental illnesses.
"If we were able to bring those programs to scale, then people with mental illnesses would be able to live independently and contribute to their local economies," Diehl said. "The health care cliff is going away."
Though such state and federal assistance programs cost money, the alternative could be more expensive. When people aren't able to find and keep a job, they usually end up relying on expensive safety net programs like Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Income.