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Environmental Contexts and Competencies

Environmental contexts are necessary for career advancement. These environments need to evolve and change to support the career advancement of individuals with mental health challenges.  

The Career Pathways Framework (CPF) is a contextualized stage model focused on the attainment of decent work among individuals living with mental health challenges. of diverse populations with lived experience. In CPF we recognize the effect of social and structural environments on the mental wellbeing and career growth of individuals in challenging mental health situations. Learning to adapt to shifting and conducive environments can help people live lives aligned with their values, interests, and goals. However, these systems tend to be dysfunctional and non-conducive to the career growth of individuals as they are often characterized by sanism, racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, heterosexism, casteism, anti-immigrant sentiment, classism, sectarian and communal violence, religious intolerance, ableism, and ageism.  

The stage model of psychological competencies at the individual level described in CPF is embedded within two other stage models. This is like a matryoshka doll where a small doll is nested within a larger one that is nested within an even larger one. These two stage models occur at the community and institutional levels and are called the proximal social system and the structural system. 

The Proximal Social System 

The proximal social system is the first environmental context identified in the CPF system. The proximal social system is essentially the community system. Proximal social systems include the interpersonal and functional settings which are most immediate to the individual’s everyday life like family and friends, living situations, learning environments, quality and access to services, availability of work, and even work environments. There can be restricted access to career pathways due to the inhibitive nature of these environments (e.g., lack of opportunities for vicarious learning; repeated messages that work would be too stressful). Most proximal social systems lack the required competencies to support individuals with mental health challenges attain decent work and achieve their career goals. With community-level interventions, these proximal social systems can make progress from inhibitive to conducive environments for individuals with mental health challenges. 

The Structural System 

The structural system is the second environmental context in the CPF system. The structural system consists of the institutional domains of social, cultural, political, and economic structures that pertain to individuals experiencing mental health challenges. These structures can often be exclusionary contributing to restricted access to career pathways. In these structures, individuals with mental health challenges who are from historically marginalized communities encounter joint employment disparities. For example, Black Americans with mental health challenges have to navigate both racist and sanist structures where policing practices, urban poverty, mass incarceration “interlock” with discriminatory hiring practices, the vestiges of institutionalization and deinstitutionalization, and work disincentives embedded within Social Security Disability Insurance Systems (Doede, 2016; Jackson et al., 2016). These structural systems include marginalizing processes that restrict access to decent work, but they also include counteractive processes. These counteractive processes either exist within the systems or disrupt these systems, such as the peer empowerment movement or the Americans with Disabilities Act.