ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Why I Suggest Self-Employment

Jack Bragen
Friday January 01, 2016 - 04:23:00 PM

When dealing with job placement via a mental health agency, a mental health consumer could be grossly underestimated, and could be placed in a position which is well below our capabilities. For example, my wife has a Bachelor's Degree, and a worker at Department of Vocational Rehabilitation placed her in training to become a motel maid. Some mental health professionals presume that we have subnormal intelligence.  

It can be hard not to buy into this. Mental health professionals have convinced many persons with mental illness that we can't do anything that entails the higher functions of the mind. Because of this, we may learn to think and act accordingly.  

Being mentally ill and medicated does not preclude having an otherwise good mind. However, mentally ill people are taught to devalue ourselves. If we assert that we have plans of something nebulously professional, we are said to have a delusion.  

A worker at Department of Rehabilitation scoffed at my plans to become self-employed, claiming that people become self-employed when they are great at handling regular employment, and that self-employment is a step up from that. 

However, I recommend self-employment for persons with disabilities. There are numerous reasons why, when ready, we might try this.  

Many people on medication can not keep up with the pace of work in an entry-level unskilled job. Psychiatric drugs can slow people down. When we try to perform physically at something, we are up against a brick wall of our brain being medicated. Some people with psych disabilities quit their medication while in a job, and the outcome isn't good. It is a desperate attempt at being better at a job. Or, it could be the belief that because we can work, we aren't mentally disabled after all. This appears to be a common mistake.  

Working in one's own business entails that we can generally work at our own pace. If we are dealing with the expectations of a customer, we may have to do some work to fulfill those expectations. However, if there are a couple of customers who are not happy, this is normal for any company and isn't always a reflection on the work performance. We can afford to lose a few customers as long as the great majority of customers are kept happy.  

Self-employment can involve numerous types of work. My first "company" involved window washing for people's homes and businesses. I was seventeen years old, and the work was eclipsed by my first psychotic episode. A few years later, (following electronics training and employment in television repair) I wanted to be self-employed in electronic repair. Initially, I did this in addition to working for an established repair shop.  

The self-employment that I performed in my past included going to people's homes and helping them with their computer issues, and, years beforehand, repair of analog TV's and VCR's in people's homes. I also, at one point, had a shop that I ran in a storage space in Concord that I called, "Poor Man's Electronic Exchange."  

In all cases, my businesses didn't involve hiring anyone, but simply doing the work myself. Hiring someone involves a massive amount of extra liability, expense, and recordkeeping, and I don't recommend it. I also do not suggest a business partner unless such a person is a spouse or close relative.  

If starting a business that involves a service performed for the public, you must be capable of providing what you promise. If you are not certain that you can do something for a customer, I suggest that you don't initially promise it. If there is something you thought you could do but it turns out that you can't, in general, the sooner you inform the customer of this, the better off you are.  

The advantages of self-employment include, but are not limited to: You can't be fired; You can take a sick day as needed, for any reason, including not feeling up for work; You can work at your own pace; You do not need to deal with a supervisor--you are your own supervisor; self-employed people get more respect; The amount of pay, if you are charging the going rate, (which you should) is much higher for a comparable amount of work. 

Things to keep in mind are: You will at some point need licensing and insurance; You will need to keep basic records for tax purposes; most small businesses shut down within a year or two of starting up; You should not expect huge amounts of money; If you advertise in the Yellow Pages or in a newspaper, you could get too many calls, and this can feel overwhelming.  

(Concerning the last item above, that of "too many calls," strategies can be used to prevent getting too stressed. For one thing, have a separate phone line for customer calls, and only take calls when prepared to do so, possibly for certain scheduled hours. Secondly, if you have more prospective customers than prepared to handle, inform the customers of this. A little bit of communication goes a long way. Worse than having "too many calls" is when your phone never rings. Finally, find someone in your chosen field to whom you can send overflow.) 

I know someone who has a part-time housecleaning business, and she does very well at that. She has designed her company around her capabilities and her needs. This seems to suit this woman, and she has been doing this for a long time. I know someone else who worked for decades as a freelance proofreader for book publishing houses.  

Someone suggested to me that working independently and without external pressure is suitable for numerous people who are mentally ill and gifted. Another possibility is to do an EBay business or become an Amazon vendor--I have heard this can be lucrative.  

If you have a home-based business and the work is outcall, you should probably google your customer beforehand, and you should avoid working in high crime areas.  

If you are disabled, one approach is to keep your company low-key. You could consider that your company is part-time and you are not doing it for the purpose of making a massive amount of money. I suggest outcall rather than renting a business space; the amount of savings of not leasing a space could make the difference between your company being viable, or not. 

If you have assets to protect, you should get public liability insurance.  

It is extremely hard to maintain work of any kind if we are doing this in an emotional vacuum. Getting support, including positive reinforcement, is more important than the amount of money being earned. When we are doing hard work in an emotional or social environment of nothing, it tends to knock the wind out of us.  

To get started, there are massive numbers of books and classes on starting a small business. 

In order to fund the startup costs, the Social Security Administration has a program called, P.A.S.S., Plan to Achieve Self Support. They do not necessarily expect that you will be completely self-supporting, but Social Security saves some money if you have income to report.  

About fifteen years ago, under P.A.S.S., I studied computer servicing textbooks with the goal of getting a computer certification for my computer assistance company. I failed the exam by one question, and at the time did not want to retake the exam, which I could have done. However, the computer knowledge I acquired in my independent study continues to serve me to this day in my writing career, since I am able to maintain and upgrade my own computers.  

Every business or job has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This essay is intended merely to offer ideas, and it should not be seen as a standard that you have to reach. When I was in phases wherein I didn't feel as good, in some instances I had to shut down my self-employment and/or work attempts. There is no shame in this. I suggest that you do not let parents, mental health workers, or yourself, berate you if you do not feel up to a task. The put-downs, whether generated by oneself or someone else, add more weight to the emotional baggage that could hinder trying something new in the future.  

Self-employment isn't suited for everyone. Yet, it can be one way of us giving ourselves a job. We should not approach it with the goal of making a living, but should instead think about the benefit (and fun) of having something interesting to do.