How is unemployment among people with mental illness conceptualized within social policy? A case study of the Ontario Disability Support Program

Work. 2015;51(1):121-33. doi: 10.3233/WOR-141843.


Background: Government policy shapes and is shaped by society's views of important social issues such as employment among people with disabilities.

Objective: This article explores how unemployment among people with mental illness has been understood and characterized within social policy.

Methods: Drawing on a qualitative case study that explored the construction and implementation of policy reform within the employment support branch of the Ontario Disability Support Program, this paper examines assumptions about unemployment among people with mental illness that underlie social policy and their impact on employment services and supports.

Results: The most prominent messages that emerged from the data focused on unemployment among people with mental illness as a function of personal responsibility, limitations and a lack of motivation. Although there was awareness of the role of social and systemic factors, these issues were given less weight, especially when describing employment support practices. There is a lack of sufficient attention to complex and deeply-rooted social and systemic inequalities within social policy and employment services.

Conclusions: There is a need to expand conceptualizations of unemployment among people with mental illness within social policy, and develop interventions that address complex social factors and systemic constraints that can limit employment opportunities.

Keywords: Causes of unemployment; employment supports; funding structures; policy reform.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Employment, Supported
  • Government Agencies / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / rehabilitation
  • Motivation
  • Ontario
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Public Policy*
  • Social Responsibility
  • Social Stigma
  • Unemployment*
  • Work Capacity Evaluation