Supported Employment

Many people living with serious mental illness want to work. For many, work is becoming an important aspect in their recovery. Supported employment is a well-defined approach to helping people with mental illness find and keep competitive employment.


"Competitive employment" means work (part-time or full-time) in the community that anyone can apply for and pays at least minimum wage. The wage should not be less than the normal wage (and level of benefits) paid for the same work performed by individuals who do not have a mental illness. Supported employment is a successful approach that has been used in various settings by culturally diverse consumers, employment specialists, and practitioners.




Supported employment is an approach to vocational rehabilitation that emphasizes

          1) helping people obtain competitive work in the community; and

          2) providing the supports necessary to ensure success at the work place.


Critical Elements


The followings are predictive of better employment outcomes:

1)       focus on competitive employment

2)       rapid job searches

3)       jobs tailored to individuals

4)       time-unlimited follow-along supports

5)       integration of supported employment and mental health services

6)       zero-exclusion criteria (i.e., no one is screened out because they are not ready)




17 studies demonstrated that SE showed significant advantages over traditional approaches.  Across these studies, 58% of those in SE obtained competitive employment compared to 21% in traditional programs.

Consumers in SE work more hours and earn more wages than their counterparts receiving other vocational services.

No negative effects (e.g., higher levels of distress) related to SE

Improvements in symptoms, self-esteem, and satisfaction with finances


Outcome measures


1)       Consumer outcome: whether or not a consumer is working or not in competitive employment

2)       Program outcome: Fidelity scale (15 items - Staffing, Organization, Services)



Joe Longcor, Program Consultant  Phone (517) 241-1730


Source: Supported employment Implementation Resource Kit (2003). Department of Health and Human Services, SubstanceAbuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services.