Objective: The long-term trajectories of participants in supported employment have not been clear. This exploratory study presents eight- to 12-year employment trajectories among adults with psychiatric disabilities who participated in supported employment.
Methods: We reinterviewed 38 of 78 participants (49%) with severe mental illness eight to 12 years after they enrolled in supported employment studies in a small urban mental health center in New England. Data were analyzed by using quantitative and qualitative methods.
Results: All 38 participants worked during the follow-up period, a great majority (82%) in competitive jobs, and 71% worked for more than half of the follow-up years. Participants reported numerous benefits related to employment, including enhancements to self-esteem, relationships, and illness management. Psychiatric illness was the major barrier to work; part-time employment and long-term supports were the major facilitators. Three overlapping themes emerged from the qualitative analysis as significant perceived influences on participants' work-related behavior. First, the successful management of symptoms and the deployment of appropriate coping skills appeared to play an important role in finding and maintaining work. Second, participants generally preferred to work part-time because of the lesser demands of this type of job and because it was perceived to allow for the maintenance of Social Security and health care entitlements. Third, participants saw the importance of ongoing individual placement and support services. Participants stated that this was imperative in making successful transitions between jobs or from unemployment to employment and in helping negotiate pay raises or changes in conditions.
Conclusions: The long-term trajectories of participants in supported employment programs, both vocational and nonvocational, appear to be positive.