Ways to Succeed at Work or School with Schizophrenia


Linda Wasmer Andrews

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Do you dream of finishing your degree or getting—and keeping—a good job? Don't let schizophrenia stop you. It's true that having the illness multiplies the challenges you'll face at work or school. But with treatment and the right support, you can still set your sights on a dream—and make it come true.

Three Steps to Success

People with schizophrenia are more likely than those without the illness to have trouble with concentration, memory, organization, and social skills. Left unaddressed, these symptoms can make it nearly impossible to do your best on the job or in the classroom. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to turn the odds in your favor.

Step 1: Seek treatment for schizophrenia. A combination of medication and psychosocial treatment plays a key role in keeping symptoms under control.

Step 2: Take advantage of support services. Talk with a job or school counselor. Or sign up for a rehabilitation program that offers vocational and social training. In such programs, you'll learn practical skills, such as how to land a job, do it successfully, get there by public transportation, talk with coworkers, and budget a paycheck.

Step 3: Work closely with your employer or school. Together, you can often find ways to get around any obstacles that arise from your illness.

Reasonable Accommodations

It also helps to inform yourself about your legal rights. Many employers are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects people who have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If you have schizophrenia, you probably meet that standard. But keep in mind that the ADA doesn't govern all businesses, particularly some smaller companies.

Under the ADA, employers must provide "reasonable accommodations" to qualified workers. Accommodations are changes to the work environment or the usual way of doing job tasks that allow an individual with a disability to have equal employment opportunities. To be considered reasonable, the changes can't create undue hardship on the employer. Fortunately, relatively simple, informal changes are often very helpful for people with schizophrenia. Some of them are listed below.

The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also have provisions that cover students through college. Younger students with schizophrenia are also covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To learn more, see the resources at the end of this article.

Problems and Solutions

Some accommodations require help from an employer or teacher. But others are simple enough to do on your own.

Any changes need to be tailored to your symptoms and the setting. Forget about one-size-fits-all solutions. Where schizophrenia is concerned, one size fits one. Still, it helps to know what other people have already tried. Here are some changes that have helped others: 

Problem Areas

Possible Solutions


Divide big jobs into several small chunks.

Set up partitions to reduce distractions.

Use boxes and bins to decrease clutter.


Work with a job coach or mentor.

Use written or recorded reminder notes.

Keep track of tasks with checklists.

Prioritize tasks with a color-coding or number system.

Track your schedule on a calendar.

Set up automated reminders for meetings.


Prioritize tasks with a color-coding or number system.

Track your schedule on a calendar.

Set up automated reminders for meetings.

Social skills

Work with a counselor or therapist.

Practice social skills at rehab.

Find a quiet space for private time.

Information and Inspiration

It's up to you to take the first step toward achieving your dreams. These resources can get you started:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. Department of Justice, www.ada.gov

  • Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University, www.bu.edu/cpr

  • Job Accommodation Network, U.S. Department of Labor, www.askjan.org

  • Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, idea.ed.gov

  • Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, www.ed.gov/ocr
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 5, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Profile of Cognitive Problems in Schizophrenia and Implications for Vocational Functioning. B.-L. Tan. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 2009, vol. 56, pp. 220-8.
  2. Accommodations and Compliance Series: Employees With Mental Health Impairments. B. Loy. U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network, November 30, 2009. http://askjan.org/media/Psychiatric.html
  3. Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004. U.S. Department of Education. http://idea.ed.gov
  4. Filing an ADA Employment Discrimination Charge: Making It Work for You. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Mental Health Information Center, undated. http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/sma00-3471/page8.asp
  5. Schizophrenia. National Institute of Mental Illness, March 12, 2010. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/complete-index.shtml
  6. Schizophrenia: What You Need to Know. Mental Health America. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/schizophrenia
  7. Students With Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities. U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, September 2007. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html

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