Exploratory Study of the Factors Determining the Vocational Recovery of People with Psychiatric Disabilities

Zlatka Russinova, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator

Project Purpose 

The purpose of the study is to explore the factors that determine the vocational recovery of persons with psychiatric disabilities.

Vocational recovery is examined as an important aspect of recovery from serious mental illness and is defined as the process of preserving, regaining, or acquiring competitive employment despite being affected by a disabling psychiatric condition.

Project Background

Although serious mental illness takes a heavy toll on people’s capacity to work competitively and is associated with very high rates of unemployment or sporadic employment typically at low-level jobs, a recent national survey of professionals and managers with psychiatric conditions (Russinova & Ellison, 1999) and an ongoing longitudinal study of sustained employment among people with serious mental illness (Russinova, Wewiorski, Lyass, Rogers, & Massaro, 2002) have provided evidence that sustained competitive employment is feasible for this population.

Preliminary findings from the latter study suggest that individuals who at some point of their lives received disability benefits due to severe work dysfunction can achieve vocational recovery. This occurred despite of significant barriers posed by the Social Security disability system (MacDonald-Wilson, 1999).

The Exploratory Study of the Factors Determining the Vocational Recovery of People with Psychiatric Disabilities seeks to explore the major factors that promote vocational recovery from serious mental illness based on the experiences of individuals who made the transition from severe work dysfunction measured through the receipt of Social Security income (SSI/SSDI) to full-time or part-time sustained competitive employment. The project is envisioned as an expansion of our NIDRR funded longitudinal study of sustained employment (1998-2004) that will deepen current knowledge about vocational recovery from serious mental illness.

Project Goals

The project will achieve the following goals:

Goal One:
To study the major subjective and objective factors influencing mental health consumers’ capacity to overcome severe work dysfunction and sustain vocational recovery.

Goal Two:
To disseminate the results of the study to various vocational and psychosocial rehabilitation programs, self-help groups, the broad mental health community, employers, and the general public.

The Exploratory Study of the Factors Determining the Vocational Recovery of People with Psychiatric Disabilities represents a continuation of our innovative research strategy of studying recovery from serious mental illness based on the extensive and systematic analysis of the experiences of persons who have achieved a more advanced level of recovery.

Information generated by this project is expected to expand existing knowledge both about the process of vocational recovery and about the factors influencing the unfolding of this process. Such information would be of vital importance to the more effective delivery of vocational rehabilitation services to this population.

At the same time, this information is expected to provide the basis for the design of future studies examining the mechanisms that would optimize the occurrence of vocational recovery among people with psychiatric disabilities.


MacDonald-Wilson, K.L. (1999). Navigating the Social Security Work Incentives: A primer for mental health administrators. In Mancuso, L.L., & Kotler, J.D., (Eds.) A Technical Assistance Tool Kit on Employment for People with Psychiatric Disabilities, November, 1999. Alexandria, VA: National Technical Assistance Center for State Mental Health Planning, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, 131-166.

Russinova, Z. & Ellison, M.L. (1999). Professional achievements of people with psychiatric disabilities. Workshop presented at the 24th International Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services (IAPSRS) Conference, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 10-14.

Russinova, Z., Wewiorski, N., Lyass, A., Rogers, E.S. & Massaro, J.M. (2002). Correlates of vocational recovery for persons with schizophrenia. International Review of Psychiatry, 14(4), 303-311.