Employment Support

Supporting students and graduates with mental health difficulties in their transition from college to employment.

Principal Investigator

Claire Gleeson, Senior Occupational Therapist, Unilink Service, Trinty College Dublin.

Research Aim

The aim of this project is to explore the needs of key stakeholders (students/graduates, employers and support staff) in supporting students and graduates with mental health difficulties as they make the transition from college to employment. Additionally, it aims to develop and provide a model of support utilising an individualised approach to supporting these students and graduates in their transition to employment, which will be evaluated and refined. 

The objectives of this research are to:

  1. Explore the needs, concerns, and perspectives of students and graduates with disabilities in relation to employment in order to inform the development of a work-orientated model of support for mental health difficulties.
  2. To explore the perspectives of employers in relation to the employment of people with disabilities in the workplace.
  3. To explore the perspectives of support staff in supporting students and graduates with disabilities as they make the transition from college to employment. 
  4. To develop and evaluate a model of support for students and graduates with disabilities as they transition to employment using the information gained from the stakeholder to inform it.
  5. Utilize the findings to further develop and adapt the model of support.



The employment gap between individuals with disabilities and individuals without a disability is eleven times greater in those who have no higher education qualifications than those who have graduated at a degree level (Snowden Report, 2013). With this in mind, universities and colleges have developed access routes to encourage more and more students with disabilities to engage in further education and obtain a higher education, in order for them to become qualified and lead to increased chances of employment, equality, and independence.  With the introduction of access policies, there has been a huge increase in the number of students with disabilities entering college, one of the biggest increases is the number of students with mental health difficulties.  With this increased rise in student numbers, services have had to adapt to the needs of the student and have developed more tailored supports and services to engage them and support them in their college journey; from entry, right through to graduation. 

One of the key steps in the college journey is the transition from graduation to seeking paid employment.  For those students with mental health difficulties this transition from education to employment can be most daunting and research shows that unemployment rates among people with mental health difficulties has consistently been shown to be the highest among all disability groups (Mechanic, Bilder, and McAlpine 2002). Furthermore, due to the economic crisis and a shortage of employment opportunities compounded by difficulties in seeking employment for those with mental health difficulties it can be a struggle and an anxious time.

Students with mental health difficulties in Trinity College are supported by the Disability Service and the Unilink Service; in their journey through college and in obtaining their college degree, however, this next step requires more development in the pathway to employment to ensure that these students are well supported in making the transition into the world of work. Development of this support is in line and is a key element of the Disability Service’s Strategic Plan 2011-2014, 'The Student Journey - Outreach, Transition, Retention and Progression Plan 2011-2014', in supporting students in their progression into employment. Employment is possible for people with mental health difficulties. The Unilink Service through individualised support has shown that with the right support, these individuals can complete their college courses and obtain their degrees.

The Report of the Independent Monitoring Group on the implementation of A Vision for Change -- states that the 'Unilink Service shares and is connected to the national and international policies on mental health' (p.60). This individualised support approach utilised within Unilink mirrors the Individual Placement Support (Becker & Drake, 2003) which has been shown to be effective in supporting individuals to gain and sustain employment (Burns et al, 2007). This is in line with the Recovery model as advocated by 'A Vision for Change' (Department of Health and Children, 2006).

As a consequence of Unilink’s success, it now provides a service within five Higher Education Institutes across the Dublin region and hence supports a substantial number of students with mental health difficulties who are all in the process of seeking employment on graduation from college. Therefore, this research project aims to develop a model of support and a suite of resources in supporting students with mental health difficulties in their transition to employment or further education through individualized support which focuses on the occupation of employment and supporting them in managing their mental health and wellbeing. This project will be collaboration between the Unilink Service, the Disability Service and the Careers Service in order to develop a more integrated set of resources and supports to enhance the student’s opportunity to obtain employment.

Research approach

This research study will use a three-phase approach. The first phase will gather perspectives from key stakeholders in relation to the transition from college to employment for students with disabilities which will in turn inform phase two which focuses on the development of an individualised recovery-orientated approach to support students and graduates in making the transition from college to employment. While, the final phase; phase three will evaluate the effectiveness of this model of support. A qualitative approach will be used to answer the research questions.

Disability Service Strategy 2009-2014 phase alignment: Phase 2 & 3
Level of research: PhD in Occupational Therapy
Supervisor: Dr. Clodagh Nolan
Stage of research: Year one, 2013-2014