Can people who have serious mental illness obtain competitive employment?

Employment and education provide a sense of purpose that is a critical aspect of life in recovery. In fact, most people who have SMI do want to work and see work as an essential part of their recovery. Between 40% and 60% of people who enroll in supported employment obtain competitive employment.

There is ample evidence that employment is not “too stressful” for individuals who have SMI. The benefits of employment and education for people with SMI are well documented. They include improved economic status, increased self-esteem, and symptom reduction. In fact, the detrimental effect of unemployment creates clinical risks for people who have SMI. These are often overlooked.

Supported employment programs can improve outcomes for individuals who have SMI. This includes higher likelihood that they obtain competitive employment, have longer time spent at a job, more time spent working, and higher income.

Learn more about common myths around SMI and recovery. See our infographic on this topic.




  • Evidence for IPS. IPS Employment Center. Accessed July 31, 2022.
  • Gühne U, Pabst A, Löbner M et al. Employment status and desire for work in severe mental illness: results from an observational, cross-sectional study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 2021;56:1657–1667.
  • Luciano A, Bond GR, Drake RE Does employment alter the course and outcome of schizophrenia and other severe mental illness? A systematic review of longitudinal research. Schizophrenia Bulletin. 2014:159(2-3):312-321.
  • Martone J, Swarbrick MA. The detrimental health impact of unemployment. Behavioral Health News. January 2021.
  • SAMHSA’s Working De‑nition of Recovery. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2012. Accessed July 31, 2022.‑les/d7/priv/pep12-recdef.pdf
  • Drake RE, Wallach MA. Employment is a critical mental health intervention. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. 2020;29:e178. doi: 10.1017/S2045796020000906
  • Frederick DE, VanderWeele TJ. Supported employment: Meta-analysis and review of randomized controlled trials of individual placement and support. PLoS One. 2019 Feb 20;14(2):e0212208. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212208. PMID: 30785954; PMCID: PMC6382127.
  • Was this Helpful ?
  • YesNo

Join our #MissionForBetter now

Sign up for our newsletter. We’ll let you know about new resources, education, and more.