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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Supported Education Qs & As

Obtaining more education or training can be an effective approach to gaining the skills and knowledge required for finding competitive employment

Jill Newman

Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, pp. 5-6

Mental health consumers who have not worked in several years or who do not have current references may find seeking employment a discouraging process. Many people with severe and persistent mental health disabilities have difficulty keeping employment or have found that they can no longer work in their chosen field due to their illness.

For these individuals, obtaining more education or training can be an effective approach to gaining the skills and knowledge required for finding competitive employment. Without support, however, many people with mental health barriers have difficulty accessing and/or completing educational or training programs. Supported education provides an opportunity for supports to be put in place that may increase educational success. The following are some common questions and answers related to supported education:

What is supported education?

According to Dr. Karen Unger, supported education expert, “supported education involves the integration of people with severe mental health disabilities into post-secondary education and the provision of the supports that these individuals require in order to be successful in an education environment.” A supported education counsellor assists mental health consumers with a variety of services that may include access to vocational testing, career exploration, vocational planning and access to funding and support to maintain enrolment in school. Services are individualized and based on psychosocial rehabilitation principles.

How does an individual access it?

Two possible approaches are to meet with a supported education counsellor at a mental health organization, or to make an appointment with the disability services office at any publicly-funded educational institution you plan to attend.

Is there funding available for people with mental health disabilities?

There are a variety of sources of funding for people with mental health disabilities; however, funding is subject to availability. There is much competition for increasingly scarce funds and it can be tricky to navigate the funding process. The current focus is on funding short-term training programs, which means that students may have to pursue a student loan for any programs that exceed 12 months in length. (see page 37 for options).

What if I’m not sure I can handle school?

It’s a good idea to discuss your plan to return to school with your mental health support person(s). School can be stressful, especially if you’ve been out of school for some time or have been unsuccessful at school in the past. It is important to register with the disability services office at the school that you are planning to attend. They can help you with the application process and assist with any accommodations you may require.

What are accommodations?

Accommodations refer to modifying the academic requirements to ensure that disabled students are not discriminated against. For example, an individual with severe anxiety may require a private room or extra time to write an exam. While there are significant challenges to providing effective supported education services, it is an important approach to education that attempts to level the playing field for people with mental health disabilities. Supported education can be an invaluable step for consumers to meet their educational and vocational goals

About the author
Jill is the Transition to Education Counsellor at PACT Employment Services of the Vancouver-based Coast Foundation Society

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