Employment Services: Helping People with Mental Disabilities Find Rewarding Work

Nov. 14, 2019


Celebrating National Career Development Month!

Work is an important part of every person’s life. For many adults, work makes up a significant portion of how we spend our time each day. It plays a key role in how we view and define ourselves, and it’s a primary factor of occupational wellness, one of the eight dimensions of wellness. Suffice it to say, rewarding work and a fulfilling career can have a large influence on a person’s mental health.

However, not everyone who wants to work can do so. Disabilities and impairments, whether they are physical or psychological, often pose significant barriers to employment for people who live with them. In addition to financial strains caused by unemployment, research has shown that people who are unemployed suffer from more mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and distress, than those who are employed.

For these reasons, people who have disabilities can benefit greatly from services that help them find or return to gainful employment. These services may include vocational guidance and counseling, job placement assistance, or training and education, and they’re typically offered by government agencies in cooperation with local community health organizations.

Cummins Behavioral Health Systems is proud to be one such organization providing employment services in central Indiana. In celebration of National Career Development Month, we spoke with Jennifer Crooks, Cummins’ Director of Employment Services, to learn more.

Employment Services in a Nutshell


"We've had tons and tons of success stories. It's wonderful to see people that have kept their job for a long period of time and are grateful that we assisted them," says Jennifer Crooks, BSW, Director of Employment Services at Cummins BHS.

So, what exactly are employment services, and how can someone go about receiving them? “Employment services here at Cummins include a lot of different things,” Jennifer says. “Life skills specialists, therapists, doctors, or anybody that works at Cummins can refer consumers for services. Some people just have the dream that they want to work one day, or that they want to get a job in a few years. Other people don’t ever want to work, they just want to volunteer. They want to do something meaningful to give back to the community.”

In order to be eligible for Cummins’ employment services, a person must have a mental disability or disorder that makes it difficult for them to work. Some common examples include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder. The type and scope of services provided can vary widely from person to person, as Jennifer explains:

“It’s very consumer-driven. Some people want us there every step of the way and really need a lot of support once they start working. Other people just need us to help them write their résumé, submit applications and practice interviewing skills. It’s 100% their choice, and it’s a little bit different when you’re talking about a mental health disability as opposed to a physical or developmental disability. A lot of people don’t want that known to their employer, so if they work somewhere the public is allowed, we may go to their place of work to observe them, but their employer doesn’t have to know that’s what we’re doing.”

However, Cummins’ employment services aren’t reserved only for existing clients. Through a partnership with Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration, Cummins also assists individuals who are referred from outside the organization.

Cummins BHS and Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services


As mentioned above, many state and local governments have programs for assisting citizens with employment needs. In Indiana, this is done through the FSSA’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services, or VR. This program provides individualized services to help people with disabilities prepare for, obtain or retain employment. As part of the program, individuals seeking services through VR choose an employment provider, which could be Cummins BHS or another community healthcare provider.

“We provide services to consumers that come to us from VR,” Jennifer says. “If they’ve gone through the intake process and picked us as their employment specialist, we work through the VR process and help them figure out their vocational goals. We do a lot of job shadowing and situational assessments to help them get experience, and we support them as much as they want.”

In most cases, Cummins only accepts VR referrals whose primary disabilities are related to mental health. However, in counties where community healthcare resources are limited, Cummins sometimes provides employment services for people with physical or developmental challenges, such as deafness and autism. Jennifer reports that employment specialists receive additional training for assisting consumers in these situations.

Ultimately, the goal of employment services is to help people take their mental and occupational wellness into their own hands and find rewarding, personally fulfilling employment. According to Jennifer:

“Employment and vocation can be a huge piece of recovery for our consumers. It gives them something to do and to look forward to, interaction with other people, and the ability to have extra money and do things on a social basis. Really, we try to empower them. It’s not like we just find a job for them—they have to work at it. They see the hard work and the effort that they put into it, so it’s a lot more meaningful to them.”


If you’d like to learn more about the employment services that Cummins provides, including our free employment workshops, check out this video featuring Jennifer Crooks and Debbie Roman!

And if you enjoyed this post, you might also like our blog about the behavioral health benefits of volunteering. You can check it out below!

How Volunteering Bolsters Mental Health with Cummins’ Jennifer Crooks and Mental Health America’s Tammi Jessup