Social Inclusion and Integration into the Labor Market: Mentally Ill Unemployed in German Job Centers
In the course of a research project about the situation of mentally ill unemployed persons, we examined how case workers (counsellors, placement officers) in German job centers deal with mentally ill benefit recipients and how strategies of integration into employment affect social inclusion or exclusion. The analyses presented are based on 34 qualitative interviews with case workers from eight job centers and 43 benefit recipients with diagnosed mental disorders.
Our results show that attempts of activation have to consider conditions like the type of disorder, severity and chronicity. Most jobseekers argued that unemployment worsened their well-being and impaired their health. Having a job was seen as a core aspect of inclusion into “normal” life. Others, however, feared they couldn’t handle work requirements, stress or unfriendly supervisors.
Clients faced different approaches when they met case workers in job centers: Some of them chose an open and trusting approach towards job seekers, others used instruments of coercion. Also, few case workers focused on integration through employment while most took chose an approach to wait for clients to “get better first”. Often this happened although clients would have preferred to pursue a strategy of integration into employment.
Restricting factors for an inclusive strategy of case workers are little knowledge of mental illnesses, lack of support for labor market integration and a hierarchic communication. On the other hand, a trustful relation with case workers and granting the clients an active role in the counselling process can support social inclusion of mentally ill welfare-to-work clients.