The experiences of people who re-enter the workforce following discharge from a forensic hospital
This critical hermeneutic study explored what it is like to re-enter the workforce following long-term forensic hospitalisation. An in-depth analysis of the phenomenon was completed, with the aim of evoking insights and developing understandings about the lived return-to-work experience. As this research was situated within the critical paradigm, the process of seeking, securing and sustaining employment was viewed in terms of power relationships, and through the multiple positionings of psychiatric disability, employment status and social capital.An unstructured interview process was used to explore the return-to-work experiences of eight purposefully selected informants with a history of mental illness and prior illness-related offending. They were living in the community and had returned to part or full-time employment, which they had sustained for at least six months. The gathered data was interpreted using hermeneutic analysis. This process revealed a number of themes, which were clustered into related groups, under eleven essential overarching themes. Freire's (1972) critical social theory was used to add critical depth to the findings.The findings reveal that returning to work exposes people who are affected by mental illness to an array of challenges and personal opportunities. People who have a forensic psychiatric history can encounter complex employment barriers related to stigma and misunderstanding. Therefore, the selected critical hermeneutic design provided a congruent framework with which to view the informants' quest to seek, secure and sustain employment. Despite significant obstacles, securing employment provides opportunities for individuals to test their skills while engaged in meaningful work activity. The acquisition of work skills can result in individuals' experiencing a strong sense of self-satisfaction. The experience of being bolstered by personal accomplishment often co-exists with, but is not necessarily negated by, difficulties that arise on-the-job.As there is scant reference to forensic rehabilitation within the mental health vocational literature, this study may be a timely contribution. It may also be used to add depth to the knowledge base within the field of mental health rehabilitation, in particular the specialised areas of forensic rehabilitation and vocational practise. Therefore, it may be a positive precursor to further discussion and analysis regarding work and education outcomes from the unique forensic psychiatric perspective.