Oooops! 80 Percent of Mentally Ill are Not JoblessWhile I’m sure NAMI appreciates all the media coverage on their new National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) report on the state of unemployment and people who suffer a mental illness, some of the stories are missing a pretty big qualifier.

It’s not among all people with mental illness who have the 80 percent jobless rate.

No, it’s only the minority of people with a mental illness who are also receiving care in the public mental health system. And that’s a big difference.

It’s a tragedy that 80 percent of people with a mental illness who are using the public mental health system are unemployed. But even back in 2003, as the report notes, the unemployment rate was only marginally lower — 77 percent. In 2012, they were at 82.2 percent — a rise of 5 percent. There’s a lot of theories as to why this rate has risen, but no hard data.1

Unemployment rates amongst this population will always be a lot higher than the rest of the population. The rates of unemployment will likely never be less than 40 percent, as only 60 percent of this population say they want to work. People who use the public mental health system are usually poorer, live in neighborhoods that are economically depressed, and have fewer opportunities available to them (job or otherwise).

So let’s run through some numbers to put this report into some sort of context (you’d think a publication like USA Today would do this, no?).

There are approximately 240 million adults in America today, and about 15 percent of them seek mental health treatment every year.2 That means we have 36 million Americans who seek out treatment for mental illness each year. Only 7.1 million of those are in the public mental health system.

This means nearly 29 million Americans get their treatment through the private mental health system, having their treatment paid by an insurance company or paying for it themselves out-of-pocket. Doing some basic math, we see that the new NAMI report only applies to about 20 percent of those seeking mental health treatment.

So yeah, sorry, that doesn’t translate into ‘Bleak picture’ for mentally ill: 80% are jobless, as the USA Today story proclaims. The report only covers 20 percent of people seeking treatment. We simply don’t know the unemployment figures for the vast majority of people with a mental illness.

I’m pretty sure it’s still worse than the general population’s unemployment rate, but it’s also not likely to be anywhere close to the 80 percent figure carelessly thrown into headlines by editors who don’t understand the limitations of the research they’re reporting on. Sloppy Journalism strikes again.


Read the poor reporting of the USA Today story: 'Bleak picture' for mentally ill: 80% are jobless

Read the full NAMI Report: Road to Recovery: Employment and Mental Illness


  1. The report offers no new data that I could find that adequately explains why unemployment is getting worse, but the slow recovery from the economic downturn might be one reasonable explanation. []
  2. []



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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Jul 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2014). Oooops! 80 Percent of Mentally Ill are Not Jobless. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 27, 2015, from


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