Objective: Small business is a favorably regarded institution in America. Given employment disparities among individuals with psychiatric disabilities compared to other workers, self-employment has potential to promote career development and community integration. However, little is known about what has helped or hindered current small business owners with psychiatric disabilities. This exploratory study identified characteristics of individuals’ work and disability histories, as well as business characteristics, that can inform policy and practice development in support of disability-owned small businesses. Method: A nonprobability sample of 60 U.S. adults with a history of psychiatric disability who were self-employed in 2017 completed a web-based survey that asked about demographics, experiences of disability, motivations for self-employment, and business characteristics. Results: Most survey respondents were operating new, very small, unincorporated home-based service businesses on a part-time basis. Respondents were educated, typically with extensive work histories, but had experienced discrimination and unpleasant attitudes from coworkers and supervisors.
Responses highlighted the importance of freedom and work–life balance. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: Self-employment is not necessarily a fit for everyone, but for individuals with psychiatric disabilities, it may be a pathway back to work. The size of the respondent businesses and the part-time nature of the work suggests that individuals with psychiatric disabilities are operating very small businesses that may serve as a wage employment alternative if they are able to grow in the future, or be sustained as a part-time adjunct to public benefits or other paid or unpaid work.
Impact and Implications
Self-employment is one strategy to improve employment and financial outcomes for individuals with psychiatric disabilities while also promoting community inclusion. This research is an important first step in exploring self-employment among people with psychiatric disabilities so that others can learn about how it works. It shows that some self-employed individuals with psychiatric disabilities are running very small businesses part time, supplementing their income. They have had negative experiences in the workplace and have chosen self-employment seeking freedom, flexibility, and work–life balance.