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Individual Placement and Support: Aiding Mental Health Recovery Through Work

October 16, 2019

The benefits of working are well known: increased income, improved self-esteem, and access to social networks within the community. For people with serious mental illnesses, work offers much more. It often provides a pathway to partial or full recovery. That’s where the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) intervention, implemented by Westat, comes in.

“IPS is a model of supported employment for people with behavioral health issues, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia spectrum disorder, or depression,” explains Robert Drake, M.D., Ph.D., a Westat Vice President and co-developer of IPS. “It’s an incredibly effective intervention now used across the U.S. and in 18 other countries.”

Working Pays Off in Many Ways

The evidence-based program, begun in 1990, helps individuals in this population get and keep competitive jobs of their choosing. Working helps participants promote social inclusion and improve their health and quality of life.

“IPS currently assists about 40,000 to 50,000 people a year. It is so successful because employment is a primary step toward independence,” Dr. Drake explains. “Research shows that about 60% of people who participate in IPS succeed in employment over time; the longer they work, the more they improve and recover. This means they can better control their symptoms, reduce substance use and hospitalization, and actually decrease their medication.”

IPS Expands to Other Countries and New Populations

Since its start, 500 IPS programs have sprung up in 80% of U.S. states and in 18 countries, including Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, England, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, the IPS manual has been translated into 7 languages.

“IPS is spreading to other populations, including people with anxiety, autism, chronic pain, or spinal cord injuries,” says Dr. Drake. “It’s also being explored by less prosperous countries such as Colombia where Westat is helping leaders plan its study of IPS.”

Westat’s Training Helps IPS Programs

To help individual programs, Westat staff offer online and in-person training. In addition, we provide technical assistance to the various programs nationally and internationally.

Each quarter, we analyze data optionally submitted by 250+ of the 500 U.S. programs. The analyses help individual practices improve their IPS management. In addition, we have randomized controlled trial studies underway at 30 sites in 20 states that are part of the Social Security Administration’s Supported Employment Demonstration to further examine the effectiveness of IPS.

IPS was developed 30 years ago when Dr. Drake was asked by the state government in New Hampshire to improve employment outcomes for the state. He worked closely with Deborah Becker, a researcher at Dartmouth College who now oversees the IPS program at Westat, to create the model program. The program relocated to Westat 3 years ago.

At Westat, Ms. Becker directs the International IPS Learning Community. This is where members in some 24 states and regions and 6 countries share ideas on how to implement IPS programs, use employment outcomes to guide technical assistance, and expand IPS services across their regions. Of her work, Ms. Becker says, “A great reward for working in this area has been seeing people transform their lives through their work experiences.”

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