Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment

“Workers with Psychiatric Disabilities and Self-Employment through Microenterprise” is supported by funding from NIDLRR Grant No. 90SF0020-01-00

“Workers with Psychiatric Disabilities and Self-Employment through Microenterprise” is supported by funding from NIDLRR Grant No. 90SF0020-01-00

This research project examines self-employment as a strategy to improve career and financial outcomes for individuals who have experienced mental health problems. People who are labeled with mental disorders experience high rates of unemployment, discrimination, and lack of access to education and work opportunities. Self-employment can be a uniquely valuable option for improving career outcomes, and provide opportunities for creative and economic independence. This study includes self-employed individuals working as a sole proprietor or microenterprise (a small businesses with fewer than five employees).

Project Activities

First, using an environmental scan approach we are reviewing the literature and interviewing experts in entrepreneurship, disability policy, and supportive business development. Recommend a key informant or volunteer.  

Second, a nationwide survey will identify how individuals who have experienced mental health problems have have overcome barriers and capitalized on their passion to contribute to social change and economic development through self-employment.

Knowledge and products to be developed

We hope the results of this study will provide information to aspiring entrepreneurs with psychiatric disabilities and their support networks, and expand knowledge of policies, practices, and technologies that can inform business development strategies. Results will be disseminated in public reports, presentations, and journal articles.

Project Technical Advisory Panel

Background on the Issue

Social justice: Microenterprises for social impact are a potentially huge force in labor market participation by people with psychiatric disabilities. Operating a microenterprise can provide equitable employment opportunities for oneself and our peers, while avoiding discrimination on the basis of a disability. Social entrepreneurship is a broad category of business-oriented approaches to enact social change, and “giving back” is a common principle in recovery. 

Discrimination: Individuals labeled with mental disorders experience stigma and discrimination related to employment and education settings at a greater intensity than many other groups. A nationally representative poll in 2013 showed that only 28% of Americans are willing to have a person with a psychiatric disability as a coworker. This kind of discrimination at work can cause additional emotional distress, making it difficult to fully engage in wage employment.

Safety and security: Research on entrepreneurship has shown that individuals make tradeoffs based on both individual preferences in the work environment and also external characteristics of that environment: even if an individual prefers security, if wage employment is not experienced as secure because of discrimination or other stresses in the work environment, then self-employment may satisfy this need more than wage employment. Self-employment provides opportunities for individuals to design and enact a trauma-informed environment at work.

Wealth creation: Self-employment is one of the few options that provide people receiving SSI benefits the opportunity to grow wealth – the resource limit for SSI beneficiaries is $2,000; however, a business owner who is on SSI can theoretically have unlimited funds in a separate business account if those resources are required for business expenses. 

Recovery-oriented: Self-employment is a uniquely valuable option for many reasons: self-employment is consistent with recovery-oriented principles in rehabilitation, such as person-centeredness and system independence. Self-employment may capitalize on the particular interests of many in this population both to enact empowerment through social change and to have flexible work accommodations pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

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