TANF SEP: A Successful Employment Resource for People Experiencing Mental Illness

Last updated on May 30th, 2024 at 07:55 pm

Finding a job can be challenging for anyone. But what if you’re also struggling with behavioral health?

Job search-related stresses can lead to worse mental health symptoms, which can in turn interfere with work tasks or deter potential employers. The isolation and lack of structured activities that come with extended unemployment only make the situation worse. And despite anti-discrimination laws, individuals often face stigma surrounding mental health impairments in the workplace. It’s easy for someone to end up in a vicious cycle of unemployment and mental health decline.

To break up this cycle, Sunrise helped with a new pilot program called the Supported Employment Pilot (SEP) for 219 qualifying Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) clients. This program provided evidence-based services to help participants find and maintain competitive employment throughout mental illness recovery.

What was the TANF SEP?

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Supported Employment Pilot (TANF SEP) was an exploratory program designed to help people who have mental health treatment needs find and maintain work. The program was implemented by the Washington State Health Care Authority’s Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR), the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Economic Services Administration (ESA), and community mental health service providers including Sunrise between April 2015 and December 2017.

Sunrise offered participants ongoing support both before and after job placement, including behavioral health treatment services to help participants recover from mental illness. This strategy, known as the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model, is an evidence-based way to advance career paths for people with mental illness.

The TANF SEP integrated supported employment services into the participants’ mental health treatment plan. In doing so, Sunrise and its partners were able to help many participants gain meaningful work.

Who participated in the TANF SEP?

To qualify for the program, participants had to be TANF clients who were unemployed at the time of program entry, although they had varying degrees of employment in the 12 months before beginning the program. They also had to meet access to care standards for mental health treatment, live in Skagit or Snohomish counties, and express an interest in being employed.

Nearly all TANF SEP pilot participants had some indication of mental illness in the year before they started the program. More than 9 in 10 had a documented mental health treatment need in the 24 months prior to enrollment, while 88% were diagnosed with a mental health disorder and 74% had filled a prescription for a psychotropic medication. The most common mental health diagnoses were depressive and anxiety disorders.

In addition to these challenges, participants often struggled with additional barriers to employment. These included housing insecurity, chronic health conditions, poor employment history, involvement in the criminal justice system, and lack of access to childcare.

Who is Sunrise Services?

At Surnise Services we have maintained a firm commitment to the health of our community for over 20 years. Our staff is highly trained, confidential, compassionate, and dedicated to helping people overcome addiction and disability.

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