~ Lawrence finds work that works for him.
Lawrence Frazier is not outspoken or expressive, but beneath his quiet demeanor is a story of a long journey finding positive employment. Currently, he works five days a week at AmerisourceBergen, a pharmaceutical distributor with offices in the Phoenix area. He is part of a Customized Work Team (CWT) from Beacon Group that handles processing of reusable totes utilized for shipping of medication. The totes are returned to AmerisourceBergen by their customers and then staged for recycling. Lawrence’s team processes the trays in the totes, removing the thawed ice packs, so they can be used again. Before finding this position, Lawrence worked many other jobs. He is grateful for this one due to the regular day time schedule, the predictability of his tasks, and a calm work environment. Even during the past few months, when changeovers among CWT workers and job coaches were made to accommodate attendance fluctuations due to COVID-19, Lawrence remained dedicated to his essential job.
After a short stint in the military, Lawrence worked as a truck driver earlier in his career. He was proud of his job driving, but he often got confused. The job also took him away from home and his support systems. Lawrence then worked at a wastewater facility in Indiana. But challenges such as constant changes in his routine and difficulty interacting with other employees, left him frustrated on a regular basis. His sister learned he was bullied by other workers. She convinced him to move to Arizona where she lived, so she could help him better.
After moving to the Phoenix area, Lawrence began receiving Behavioral Health services from Southwest Network who set him up with a bus pass and other necessities. Lawrence lives with Schizophrenia, an often-misunderstood mental illness with symptoms that could hinder efforts to have a career. But Lawrence, who receives SSDI benefits, wanted to live independently, and he also wanted to work.
His caseworker referred Lawrence to Beacon Group in May 2018 to help him find a job. Working can be beneficial for people with schizophrenia. However, if symptoms aren’t well managed, the stress of some workplaces could make the condition worse. Since Lawrence didn’t adapt well to the constant variation in previous jobs as truck driver and wastewater operator, Beacon Group gave him the opportunity to try a custodial position working at night on a custodial crew.
Unfortunately, when the contract for the project he was on ended, Lawrence found himself once again without a job. As the months went by, Lawrence became discouraged “just sitting at home watching TV.” He felt stuck, so he took action. He called Darick Wilson, Employment Specialist at Beacon Group to help him find work again. With Darick’s guidance and help, Lawrence was able to hone in on what work environment fit him best. Darick also helped him with the job search process – applications and interviews. Lawrence had a lot of work experience but continued to struggle with the hard experiences from prior positions where he felt misunderstood, confused, and made fun of.
Schizophrenia is not a terribly common disease with prevalence rates in the US less than one percent (National Institute of Mental Health), but it can be a serious and chronic one. Approximately half of individuals with schizophrenia have co-occurring mental and/or behavioral health disorders. When schizophrenia does occur, it often becomes a chronic condition that continues throughout the remainder of life with varying degrees of intensity. “It can be really challenging for someone with any mental illness to find and maintain employment,” says Darick, “but having a job can provide stability and boost self-esteem.” Lawrence’s past experiences demonstrated that independent employment created certain risks for Lawrence, while supported employment in the right setting allowed him to thrive. Beacon Group worked with his Behavior Health clinic so he could receive long term job coaching in his CWT setting.
People with schizophrenia are no different than anyone else – they need to look for work based on their personal skill sets and ability to function in the work environment. Often, people with a mental illness may need to try several jobs before finding the right fit for their capabilities and preferences. For instance, for someone who experiences schizophrenia, social interactions can be difficult, so working closely with many other people can create discomfort and stress.
Lawrence’s current job which started in July 2019 seemed to match his interests and desires to be in a workplace whereas Lawrence puts it, “I am able to focus on my work – not the people around me.” He explains further, “here I don’t have to deal with people talking behind my back.” An important component of his current success was making sure Lawrence also had job supports and built-in transportation. Using the bus pass that Southwest Network provided had proven highly challenging. As part of a CWT, Lawrence works on a small crew with a job coach present. He is picked up before work and dropped home afterward.
Job supports are credited for the overall high rate of attendance and job retention on CWT crews throughout coronavirus pandemic. As essential workers on CWT projects, people served by Beacon Group were continuously supervised by job coaches who lead by example, taking necessary precautions to protect the safety of workers and customers. This illustrates how supported employment helps many people with disabilities like Lawrence handle the impact of COVID-19 in their own lives.
Lawrence’s job coach Marcus Young at AmerisourceBergen worked with him previously on the custodial contract. Marcus says that Lawrence is much more motivated and successful in his current position. He notes that the area they work is without distractions and away from masses of people. When Lawrence does interact with someone from AmerisourceBergen, it is one-on-one and positive. One of the warehouse associates there often gives him a fist bump for doing a great job.
“I’m a go getter. I work very hard,” says Lawrence. Although it is a repetitive job, Young says that Lawrence cares about how to make his work better. Lawrence checks his own work and has figured out that if he stands the trays up a certain way, so he can check sizes, he will be more efficient. Lawrence says he is motivated by making his own work better. In past jobs, this effort got lost in the confusion of constant changes and people distracting him. Lawrence comments, “I just want to do my job in peace.”
Working hard, receiving a paycheck, and being able to support oneself are all life-enhancing for someone who is living with mental illness. In addition, Lawrence is building up physical stamina in his job, something he appreciates after those months of couch-sitting. As Beacon Group and Lawrence addressed the misunderstood symptoms that were obstacles to his work success, he is having a much better outlook. His advice: “If you have a job that isn’t good for you — where there is poor morale – don’t get frustrated. Get support. Check out Beacon – you might be interested.”