02/22/2013 02:05 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

I Work at Baker Industries

By Beth Tiewater, Director of Projects and Resources, Baker Industries

"To know what you should do and what is expected of you and yet it just keeps escaping you must be awful."

There was a story in the news about a person suffering from mental illness and their difficulty in holding a job due to the instability of their mental health.

Well educated and articulate, they nevertheless were unable to make it in the regular workforce.

Not working affected them in a number of ways, but the most profound of these was their almost complete withdrawal from society. Why? Because nearly every social encounter involves the same question: "What do you do?"

"I'm on disability," was their answer.

"For what?" was always the next question.

Because I am mentally ill....because most days I wake up and am okay....but there are days when I'm not.

In a study done at Boston University's Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, conclusions on the importance of employment for people with mental illness revealed that work has personal meaning and work promotes recovery. Participants identified benefits of paid employment as fostering pride and self-esteem, financial benefits, providing coping strategies for psychiatric symptoms, and ultimately facilitated the process of recovery.

National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in every four Americans lives with some kind of mental illness during their lifetime:

Mental illnesses, like other illnesses, are biological disorders. They affect how the person thinks, including their moods and how they relate to things and people around them. Without proper treatment, the person's ability to perform daily functions may be disrupted. There is no link between mental illness and a person's willpower, character or intelligence. However, they can be treated effectively with medication, psychosocial treatments and supports, or both.

NAMI explains that up to 90% of people with a mental illness who seek professional help experience considerable reductions in their symptoms and achieve a much better quality of life, compared to those who do not.

Support from friends, family, and community is crucial.

At Baker Industries, in suburban Philadelphia, adults with mental illness find a workplace that understands their needs and appreciates their abilities. People with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizo-affective disorder, and other diagnoses, are welcomed, accepted, and cherished.

From the mother of a young woman who works at Baker Industries:

"As I was driving home yesterday thinking about my talk with Maria, I was thinking about how hard it is to be Maria's mom. After I got home and started telling her and saw the pain in her eyes, it brought me back to the reality of how hard it is to be Maria and live in that head of hers. I need that every once in a while! To know what you should do and what is expected of you and yet it just keeps escaping you must be awful. Last night Maria described herself as feeling calm and peaceful after the new medication. Nothing wrong with that, right?"

Please help Baker Industries continue to give Maria and others with mental illness the opportunity to answer, "What do you do?" with, "I work at Baker Industries. What do you do?"

Go to to make a donation to Baker Industries. Look for Maria's team.