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Using work to help heal mental illness

News, Research, Veterans

The right type of employment can be an important step towards recovery for veterans experiencing mental illness.

Traditional rehabilitation models use a ‘train and place’ approach to help people find employment. The emphasis is on training and preparation and there’s usually little sense of urgency as to when a person starts work.

But international research is proving the effectiveness of a more recent model that is helping people with mental illness find work.

Professor Peter Butterworth from the Australian National University believes the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model is particularly helpful to veterans transitioning to a civilian workplace.

Speaking recently at a Centenary of Anzac Centre hosted event for ex-service organisations, Professor Butterworth said, “The supported employment approach is more about ‘place and train’ – it emphasises rapid placement into competitive employment with support”.

“It assumes that everyone, regardless of circumstances, is capable of gaining competitive employment – as long as it is the right job with the right support.”

Norway is making the IPS model standard practice for people with severe mental illness. The core principles of IPS are:

  • competitive employment is the primary goal
  • there are no exclusions – nobody who expresses an interest in work is excluded
  • the job search is guided by the client’s preferences
  • rapid initiation of job search when an interest in work is expressed
  • integration of employment services with mental health services – a clinician and employment consultant work together
  • personal counselling to help manage or navigate the benefit system
  • network of customised employment options based on client interests
  • IPS support is individualised and given as long as it is needed.

Research published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal analysed the effectiveness of the IPS model with veterans who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The research divided veterans into two groups – those who received the IPS model and those who received the usual vocational rehabilitation program.

“IPS produced superior outcomes. The research found 39 per cent of veterans in the IPS arm were in steady work for about 50 per cent of the time compared to 23 per cent in the treatment as usual group,” says Professor Butterworth.

“Veterans in the IPS model earned more money per year, were quicker to move into work, and were more likely to be working full-time and for more days than the other group. So it seems that the IPS model is effective for veteran clients.

“We need to promote sustainable, person-centred employment options that match the needs of individuals and promote better mental health and wellbeing.”

You can watch Professor Peter Butterworth’s presentation here.