Meaningful employment is a key pathway to real inclusion and provides people with disability with opportunities to lead dignified lives. Promoting an inclusive workforce and supporting people to find and maintain competitive jobs are key components of what we do. For people experiencing mental health conditions, employment can be a critical part of recovery.
Certified Peer Specialist Jennifer Araugo understands the role employment plays in wellness and recovery from mental illness. “It’s what helped me with my recovery,” she said.
As a Certified Peer Specialist, she walks alongside people with mental health conditions on their journey to recovery, helping them set attainable goals, assemble their wellness tools, and advocate for themselves. Her lived experience with mental illness is a key component of her work.
“I’m their peer,” she said. “I empathize with them. I walk that walk with them.”
During the 2021 Zero Project Conference, Jennifer presented as part of an international panel on the right to employment for people with psychosocial disabilities and the need for innovative community-based services and supports within mental health.
Thank you, Liron. Thank you for having me here today, and thank you for having me on the panel. I’d like to share a little bit about my story. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And at this time I was in the military. So when I ended up getting diagnosed with that, the military ends up doing a medical board because you can no longer be in the military when you have bipolar disorder. That was really hard for me because I knew that that was it for me, and I love being a marine more than anything in the world.
So I went through years of just, you know, depression and mania…just feeling like how do I heal from all of this? And it wasn’t until I went to the VA hospital here in the United States and it was a Certified Peer Support Specialist that really helped me and encouraged me and told me “you know, I see something in you.” I was going to school for psychology because that’s what I love. I love helping people and he said, “You would make a really good peer support specialist.”
Two years later, I took the certification and Keystone was there. I loved everything the company had to say and what they stood for and a couple months later, I applied and I’ve never looked back.
My job as a Certified Peer Support Specialist is to help peers along their recovery. I’m not just, you know, I’m not their friend. I am your peer. So I empathize with them. I am lived life experience. So I have mutuality. I walk that walk with them. I encourage them to have self-advocacy, to have empowerment.
I set goals with them that are attainable and I work with them on Wellness tools. I work with them on a WRAP, a Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and I helped them do these things and I encourage them to get back into the workforce because employment is so important. It’s so important for your mental health, and I’ve learned that for me, it’s what’s helped me with my recovery. So many of the peers that I work with want to get back into the workforce.
Some of the barriers that we face and challenges that we face with employment are with appointments, or you know, taking off. Those with psychosocial disabilities or anyone in general having to take time off is just frowned upon and I think that’s just so unfair because when we are a hundred percent well, then we were giving a hundred percent of ourselves to our employers. And when you get a hundred percent of your employee, you’re getting the very best. So it’s a win-win for the employer and for the employee.
Employment is so important because it’s got to be all inclusive not just for those with psychosocial disability, but for everyone. It’s got to be inclusive for everyone so that everyone in the workforce can thrive.
Liron David, Enosh – The Israeli Mental Health Association, Israel (Moderator)
Jürgen Menze, International Labor Organization, Switzerland
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, RespectAbility, United States of America
Noah Levi, Mental Health Rehabilitation Department, Israel
Dr. Gaby Admon-Rick, Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Israeli Ministry of Justice, Israel
Tal Rokach, Enosh – The Israeli Mental Health Association, Israel
Shahar Schestatzky, Shikum Acher, Israel
Jennifer Araugo, Keystone Human Services, United States of America
Shira Yatzkan, Alon Tavor Dairy, Tnuva, Israel