ENID, Okla. — Northwest Center for Behavioral Health (NCBH) has launched a new program to help people suffering mental illness and addiction find and successfully transition into mainstream employment.

NCBH officially launched the program Thursday in an online meeting, opening up the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) program at all its clinics, in Enid, Woodward, Guymon, Alva and Fairview.

Christina Ancira, IPS regional trainer, said the program is based on an internationally recognized model, which has been developed in the United States and Europe over 20 years.

The objective of IPS, Ancira said, is to help people living with mental health conditions and addiction to be able to find and retain meaningful work and independence. That need for people to have the stability and sense of purpose that comes with work, as part of their treatment plan for mental health or addiction issues, has been repeatedly highlighted in almost 30 peer-reviewed studies.

"When they surveyed people living with mental health issues, more than two-thirds said they wanted to work, but only one-third of those were actually working," Ancira said.

IPS is based on eight key criteria:

• Clients cannot be excluded from work because of their mental health or addiction issues.

• Competitive jobs are the goal, as opposed to jobs designed for people with mental health disabilities.

• Employment should be integrated into the behavioral health plan.

• Clients are offered help planning for their benefits.

• IPS staff are focused on rapid job search and placement.

• Ongoing job development support is provided.

• There are no time limits on job support.

• As much as possible, clients' preferences for type of work are honored.

According to a 2018 presentation, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), parent agency for NCBH, has been working on implementing the program since 2016, and in conjunction with the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services since 2017.

Charita McOsker, NCBH IPS project manager, said the launch of IPS will help NCBH staff provide more holistic support for their clients.

"It's important we not only tend to immediate emotional and mental health needs," McOsker said, "but also tend to what the client needs to help them lead a balanced and rewarding life."

The ODMHSAS 2018 presentation noted being excluded from work can lead to reduced self esteem, loss of social contact, alienation and apathy, all of which can exacerbate substance abuse and the effects of mental illness.

McOsker said work, and the sense of fulfillment that comes with it, is "food for the soul."

"Our clients deserve to have that in their lives, just as much as you and I do," she said.

McOsker acknowledged people suffering from mental health and addiction issues may need extra help to transition into a job, "but that doesn't mean they can't be successful." And, she said, successfully transitioning into full-time employment can greatly enhance the likelihood of successful treatment.

"In the end, if we're able to help clients feel good about themselves as people, they are much less likely to go back to bad habits," McOsker said. "They are much more likely to stay on track and live productive lives."

According to information provided by NCBH, 16 studies over 20 years compared the success rates of behavioral health patients who transitioned into work with, and without, IPS services. Those who had ongoing IPS support were significantly more successful at retaining their jobs than those who had no support after job placement — in some studies, more than six times as successful.

Lisa Wickham, IPS employment specialist, said she's looking forward to helping clients achieve those kind of results, and not only identify and prepare for rewarding jobs, but also to balance work and personal life, and develop coping skills to not become overwhelmed in the work environment.

"I'm really excited to be a part of the IPS program and see it take off," Wickham said. "It's truly an honor to work so closely with the consumers and give them hope for a better future."

Wickham said there are plenty of jobs available in the region that can be filled by NCBH clients who want to work.

"We just have to find the match between the jobs and the consumers," she said.

Wickham said she's already had her first successful placement in the program, with a young man who was able to gain employment working from home.

Sara Sherman, NCBH director of outpatient services, said that kind of outcome is something she's looking forward to for her clients.

"I definitely think this fills a need," Sherman said. "We have so many people come in with different stressors and different needs, and for IPS to be able to work with them directly — it's just exciting to see where this will go."

McOsker said NCBH already is receiving referrals for job placement from the different regional clinics.

"This shows me this is a need," she said, "and the staff sees this as a benefit for our clients."

In order to participate in the IPS program, you must be a client of NCBH services. McOsker said anyone suffering from mental illness or substance abuse issues can contact any NCBH clinic and request services, and let staff know you're interested in job placement services.

In Enid, NCBH can be reached at (580) 234-3791. For more information on IPS visit https://ipsworks.org.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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