Thank you Project UROK!

A few weeks ago I was on one of my favorite sites, Upworthy, when I came across a story called What’s it like living with mental illness? Ask Wil Wheaton. It included an amazing video in which actor Wil Wheaton talks about his experience with mental illness and introduced me to a non-profit organization called Project UROK!

Founded in 2014 (launched spring 2015) by 20-something comedian, Jenny Jaffe, their “mission is to create funny, meaningful videos for teenagers struggling with mental health issues, made by people who have been there before.”  They aim to develop an online community to provide teens living with mental illness a sense of hope and belonging. My favorite part of the site, the video section (which I binge watched), has videos by celebrities as well as users. Project UROK! promotes acceptance, empowerment, and changing the conversation about mental illness all things IEI stands firmly behind! 

What You Need to Know: ABLE Act Information and Resources

Just before the holidays, President Obama signed into law the Achieving Better Life Expectancy (ABLE) Act. This new Act allows for people with disabilities and their families to set up tax exempt savings accounts which can be used for educational endeavors, health costs, employment related expenses, and other items leading to improved quality of life. One of the things that is so wonderful about these accounts is that they are not bound by the $2,000 resource limit normally placed on beneficiaries of Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Below are some resources to help you learn more about the ABLE Act. If you have additional information you would like to share please add it in the comments.

ABLE Act Resources

National Law Review:

National Disability Institute:

Can a Cartoon Change How We Think About Mental Illness?

Lindsay Holmes recently brought attention to a cartoon by artist, Robot Hugs, in her piece titled, “What if People Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness?,” which was published in the Stronger Together section of the Huffington Post. Titled “Helpful Advice,” the cartoon depicts, in 6 vignettes, what it would be like if we treated physical illness the same way we treat mental illness. My personal favorite being a guy hugging the toilet bowl while another looms over his shoulder saying ” Have you tried…you know… not having the flu?” Holmes says, “many people still don’t get that being diagnosed with a mental illness isn’t something that’s in their control — just like having the flu, or food poisoning, or cancer isn’t in their control.”

See the full article and cartoon here. If you have other cartoons or know other artist whose work focuses on similar topics, please share in the comments section.

*Robot Hugs is a web comic focusing on diverse topics such as mental health, sexuality, and identity.


Work and the Social Connectedness It Provides

Karla discusses her job as a nursery worker for her church. She reminds us of the importance of enjoying not only the financial rewards of work but also the social connectedness it provides. Work allows for the opportunity to connect with members of our community. For Karla, that connection is with her church community. Her work in the nursery offers the chance to connect with fellow church members as a caregiver and nurturer to the children there. As you hear Karla talk about her role in the church, consider the ways that you feel connected in your community. For many people, that connection is work.

Moving Forward: State Forensic Hospital to Choosing Employment

I recently met a person who shared their recovery narrative at a State Psychiatric Hospital. This individual had spent several years at a forensic facility and just as many years at another State Psychiatric hospital. In spite of seven years of state level psychiatric services the person appeared to transcend institutionalization through self-discovery and a sense of inner peace. This person has a vision to work as a Peer Provider (Specialist). They credit their vocational pursuit to learning to manage past victimization (trauma experiences) and own behaviors of anger and blaming others. This person expressed wanting to be a contributing member of society. Knowing the state hospital is not a home they graciously acknowledged the support from administration, direct service staff, clinicians, and peers who continue to aid his/her recovery.
I was so encouraged by this individual’s steadfast resilience I eagerly approached offering my peer support. The person was delighted to inform me about their pending discharge. We then discussed employment opportunities, consumer (peer) training, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS), Supported Employment Services (SES) and Supported Education (SEd). These state level treatment services of respect, dignity, and hope helped preserve this individual’s belief in employment as a major tool for discharge planning and community integration.
George H. Brice, Jr.

Oral Health Series Part III: How Oral Healthcare Impacts Vocational Pursuits

This post focuses on how oral healthcare impacts vocational pursuits the last of a three-part series on ORAL HEALTH that began with discussing, the importance of partnering, collaborating and identifying strategies, interventions, and resources to better engage people living with psychiatric disorders about their oral hygiene and Part II how oral healthcare impacts socialization. Based on attending a university colloquium presented by Associate Professor, Dr. Vaishali Singhal called, “Oral Implications of Psychiatric Disorders” I wanted to research more about the vocational implications regarding a lack of oral healthcare not limited to people living with mental illness and/or addiction concerns. While researching I was reminded about a presentation with a colleague on “Wellness and Recovery.”

During the presentation we were informed about a program participant who was receiving pre-vocational services at a partial care program. This person was very active in employment related activities on site, such as identifying work goals, developing a résumé, and practicing interviewing skills. After many months, staff learned that the person was not applying for jobs because he was ashamed and reluctant to mention his missing two front teeth were an emotional, physical, and financial barrier. This article called, “Do missing teeth affect job seekers?” was informative and resourceful. The author Lori Herbert had thoughtfully and empathetically described people’s plight to improve their teeth in a society that seems to usually value physical appearance. Furthermore, she offered potentially reduced dental cost resources to explore in one’s own state. These types of dental circumstances can cause perceived and real challenges of:

  1. Low self esteem
  2. Feeling ashamed
  3. Stigmatized
  4. Isolation and loneliness
  5. Fearfulness

According to a  report from February 29, 2012 called, “Dental Crisis in America/The Need to Expand Access,”  the U.S. Surgeon General’s report, “Oral Health in America,” was cited as stating: students missed 51 million hours of school and employed adults lose more than 164 million hours of work each year due to dental disease or dental visits. I believe you will find the report an insightful read addressing the complexities of accessing oral healthcare for all people and strategies and interventions to help lessen the problem. The U.S. Surgeon General (2000) referred to dental disease as a “silent epidemic.”

What areas of the three-part series on Oral Hygiene did you find most important? Share how you will use these strategies and interventions personally and professionally?

George H. Brice, Jr.


Governor Christie announced that New Jersey is an Employment First State.  You may wonder exactly what that means. So did I and what I found out is pretty exciting. The Employment First initiative comes from the National Governors Association (NGA) under the chairmanship of Governor Jack Markell (Delaware).  His publication “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities” provides a blueprint for States to improve employment for citizens with disabilities (

Here are some of the recommendations made in the report:

  • Make employment of people with disabilities part of the state workforce and economic development strategies
  •  Measure service outcomes and return on investment (the report states that supported employment returns $1.21 for every $1 spent)
  • Engage the business community in a long-term partnership
  •   Communicate to the business community that people with disabilities make good employees and are valuable members of the workforce
  • Improve access to State government jobs
  • Access federal funds to expand career services
  • Increase VR and other funding to enhance quality services and outcomes
  •  Promote self-employment options
  •  Prepare youth with disabilities for careers that use their full potential

Here are some of the interesting facts from the report:

  • “…in 2011, when unemployment was above 9%…one-third of US companies had positions open for more than six months that they could not fill.”
  •   “Walgreens … has experienced a 120 percent productivity increase at a distribution center made universally accessible and more than 50% of whose employees are disabled [sic].”
  •  “…more than 600,000 scientists and engineers currently employed in the United States have disabilities.”
  •  “Some of the top innovators in the United States have disabilities, including the chief executive officers of Ford Motor Company, Apple, Xerox, and Turner Television”
  • Although the majority of people with disabilities express the desire to work, only about 20% are working and in 2008 (for example) the federal government spent $300 billion to support working-age people with disabilities.

So what is happening in NJ?

This week I had the first of what will be ongoing meetings with the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD), the Assistant Commissioner for Workforce Development and the Director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services in the LWD.  As I learn more about their efforts I will share that information on our blog. Here’s the first:

The Department of LWD is piloting a program called “Talent Networks” in industries that are expected to experience steady growth (e.g., Financial Services, Health Care, etc) and pay good wages and benefits. The Talent Networks are “strategic partnerships of industry employers, government agencies, educational institutions, and professional and nonprofit community organizations”.  The work of these Talent Networks is to identify the hiring needs of the industry, identify and/or develop training or academic programs to prepare a skilled workforce, and to connect this workforce to employers/jobs.

If this pilot project is successful the LWD hopes to replicate it throughout the State.

More to come. In the meantime I would encourage you to read the full report – great information.

Stop Surrendering to Premature Social Security?

During the first week of June I had the pleasure of attending an Annual Meeting regarding supported employment (SE) in Madison, Wisconsin. During the meeting I attended a workshop mostly of peer providers. Like any other social movement the burden of systematic change is on the people themselves who are facing social, economic, and political injustice. As service recipients we are collectively and individually capable of pursuing work and careers. Competitive work to prevent premature social security and to timely exit premature social security. Policing ourselves and collaborating with others could be an empowering cultural shift.

We can overtime strengthen our voice and respect from others. This can be achieved by [us] working gainfully as often as possible. By promoting employment it chips away at people often characterized as one of our most “vulnerable citizens.” For example, I was provided at the age of 26 to fill out a social security application by a well-intentioned provider. I was living with my parents and I did not need the “cash” benefit. Below are some action step guidelines not limited to people living with mental illness and addiction concerns:

1. Strengthen family support, i.e. housing shortage
2. Build diverse healthy relationships
3. Maintain natural supports
4. Work First Mindset- rather than premature social security
5. Social security applications as a last resort
6. Social Security- create individualized benefit plans
7. Social Security- criteria on spending premature social security
8. Other?

George H. Brice, Jr.

Oral Health Series Part II: How Oral Healthcare Impacts Socialization

This is Part II of the Oral Health Series focusing on, how oral healthcare impacts socialization. In Part III I will explore the  impact of Oral Health on vocational pursuits.

Based on a university colloquium presented by Associate Professor, Dr. Vaishali Singhal called, “Oral Implications of Psychiatric Disorders” I wanted to research more about the social implications regarding a lack of oral healthcare not limited to people living with mental illness and or addiction concerns.

According to Robert Anders, “Beyond physical problems, having bad teeth can cause psychological issues. After all, your mouth is usually a point of focus when socializing, whether you are talking, flashing a smile, or twisting a scowl.” Anders notes ways bad teeth can trigger psychological issues

• Anxiety, especially when socializing:
• Low self-esteem:
• Depression:

Medicaid coverage varies statewide for routine and preventative dental coverage and some state programs are limited to only teeth extractions seemingly a major foundation of social complexities impacting oral healthcare treatment. People may also not prioritize dental health because of lifestyle behaviors, such as access, tobacco use, frequency of alcohol use, illness, fear, cost, and poor dietary choices. It is difficult for anyone not beginning at a young age to effectively manage oral healthcare though important to begin as soon as possible.

One tool to address the social factors and environment of oral healthcare is by a center for disease control (CDC) model. I’ve outline its action steps:

Action 1. Change perceptions of oral health.

Action 2. Overcome barriers by replicating effective program and proven efforts.

Action 3. Build the science base and accelerate science transfer.
Action 4. Increase oral health workforce diversity, capacity, and flexibility.
Action 5. Increase collaborations.

Here is a link to help better help person served and ourselves, a website that collects information on free medical and dental care in every state, links to free and reduced-rate medical services for both children and adults.

George Brice

What would you do?

The following vignette illustrates a fictitious problem and event. Any likeness to people, services, or other circumstance is purely coincidental.
You are an Employment Specialist with a residential program and are enthusiastic about a potential job lead for one of the individuals receiving services. The job is an automotive technician at a local repair shop. The person’s skills are a bit rusty because he hasn’t worked in a while, but he has a certificate in automotive repair. He received this certificate several years ago and hasn’t really had a chance to use it because he hasn’t worked in a “real” job since 2002. Recently, he has been sporadically helping out a friend who fixes cars in the neighborhood. He really wants to work and this job lead you secured meets all of his criteria—close to his house, part-time with the potential to turn full-time, working independently, good pay, and vacation time. This would be the PERFECT job. One small problem, your supervisor insists that the person “cannot handle” the pressures of working. After discussing this perfect job lead during a weekly supervision meeting, you are told not to work with this person on anything employment related. If you were the Employment Specialist, what would you do? Please comment on how you would handle this situation.