What is it about?

Black young adults with mental illnesses face high and racialized barriers to pursuing work and education goals, including vocational services that inadequately meet their needs and a criminal justice system that can derail job and career pursuits. Vocational counselors and programs should understand and act on the needs and preferences of this population. Future research on the effectiveness of race-conscious vocational practices should be centered on and led by Black communities.

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Why is it important?

Critical Race Theory (CRT), which describes how the experience of systemic discrimination impacts the lives of Black people, has come under attack for being nothing more than academic “theory”, and this rationale has been used to oppose any program or project designed to address race-based inequities. In this article, we describe how we use CRT to design and implement a research project to study why Black young adults with serious mental illnesses (SMI) have low rates of employment and school completion, relying on interviews with this population. Our findings show that many in this group were struggling vocationally because they faced systemic and direct racial discrimination, vocational services that did not meet their needs and preferences, and socioeconomic factors that negatively impacted their efforts to improve their lives.


With the push for insurance-based health reform in the last 15-20 years, there has been less of a research and practice focus on how health interventions impact racial and ethnic marginalized groups. Having evaluated mental health services for many years, researched young adult vocational initiatives, and recently been a vocational counselor for Black young adults, I wanted to unpack how systems greatly disadvantage these young adults’ pursuit of vocational goals, and examine how vocational services themselves can discriminate. I'm an adult White male with lived experience of mental illness throughout my life. I have strong empathy for people with mental illnesses who struggle, but particularly for young people who are denied vocational growth opportunities, have trouble acting on their potential, and may be headed for a life of unnecessary frustration or misery. I engaged a co-researcher and author with complementary expertise, who is a Black woman with lived experience of intersectional structural and interpersonal disadvantage. Our varying perspectives provided the foundation for applying Critical Race Theory and exemplify its use in a practical sense.

Jonathan Delman

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Barriers to and facilitators of vocational development for Black young adults with serious mental illnesses., Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, March 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/prj0000505.
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