Breakout Session, 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Understanding and Addressing the Vocational Barriers and Needs of Black Young Adults
with Serious Mental Health Conditions

Session Overview

Problem: Young adulthood (ages 18–30) is when rates of serious mental illnesses are highest. These young adults have low employment rates. Racial disparities exist in the delivery and outcomes of vocational services for young adult Blacks with SMI. After high school graduation Blacks with disabilities were significantly less likely to find a competitive job as compared to Whites with disabilities. Without work, independent community living is difficult.

Methods: We (1) conducted qualitative interviews with Black young adults with SMI who are using or have used vocational services, and (2) used rigorous mixed methods analysis (content coding analysis including comparisons quantitative factors)

Findings: 1) Common and regular experiences of discrimination negates the confidence and hopes for vocational success of Black young adults with serious mental illnesses, 2) The presence of Blacks in authority/management positions and peers at a school or workplace establishes a racial/ethnic climate that can significantly improve vocational success, 3) In the Workplace, an attentive and allied supervisor facilitated job success, 4) The most effective vocational specialists are open minded, able to understand and relate to clients, provide vocational pathway options based on client preference, and have practical knowledge and skills to help.


After attending this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Compare and contrast four factors that most impact vocational success for young black adults with mental illness
  2. Describe three key self-determined factors and related mitigation strategies that can influence vocational success of young black adults with mental illness
  3. Articulate how three experiences of discrimination relate to the vocational success of young black adults with mental illness
  4. Incorporate at least 3 policy and practice changes that could enhance vocational supports to young black adults with mental illness


Jonathan DelmanJonathan Delman, PhD

Vocational Specialist, Principal Investigator

Jonathan Delman, PhD is a NIDILRR distinguished research fellow studying the vocational needs and preferences of young Black people with mental illnesses, and a vocational specialist at a program for young adults with mental illnesses. He is also an Assistant Research Professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Department of Psychiatry, and technical assistance consultant at the Learning & Working During the Transition to Adulthood Rehabilitation Research & Training Center at UMass. Dr. Delman, himself a person with lived experience of mental illness and first episode treatment, is also an advocate and participatory action researcher who believes that research should meet the expressed needs of the community and directly impact policy and practice.
Dr. Delman is passionate about providing the best and most relevant vocational opportunities for young adults with mental health conditions, and is experienced at promoting their on the job success. His relevant materials on this topic include: Effectively Employing Young Adult Peer Providers: A Toolkit, The promise of demand side employer-based strategies to increase employment rates for people living with serious mental illnesses, and Employment and Young Adults with Serious Mental Health Conditions: Increasing Employment and Career Opportunities.