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Psychosocial interventions for severe mental illness

Juan Bustillo, MD
Elizabeth Weil, MD
Section Editor
Stephen Marder, MD
Deputy Editor
Richard Hermann, MD


Severe mental illness is a term used to characterize mental disorders with severe symptoms and behavioral impairment, pronounced disability in basic life skills, and a chronic or prolonged course of illness. Patients with these conditions typically have substantial impairments in personal, social and occupational functioning.

Assertive community treatment (ACT) and supported employment are psychosocial interventions developed to address functional deficits of patients with severe mental illness. ACT is a high intensity, integrated, community-based model for delivering clinical and other social services to individuals with severe mental illness. Supported employment programs provide support to individuals with severe mental illness to find and maintain a job in the competitive job market. Although their availability varies, these interventions are used to augment pharmacotherapy for severe mental disorders.

This topic addresses psychosocial interventions for severe mental illness. Psychosocial interventions specific to individual disorders are discussed separately, as are pharmacologic treatments for these disorders. (See "Psychosocial interventions for schizophrenia" and "Pharmacotherapy for schizophrenia: Acute and maintenance phase treatment" and "Pharmacotherapy for schizophrenia: Long-acting injectable antipsychotic drugs" and "Bipolar disorder in adults: Choosing pharmacotherapy for acute mania and hypomania" and "Bipolar disorder in adults: Choosing maintenance treatment" and "Bipolar disorder in adults: Pharmacotherapy for acute depression" and "Bipolar disorder in adults and lithium: Pharmacology, administration, and side effects" and "Unipolar major depression with psychotic features: Acute treatment".)


Rather than treating a specific mental disorder, assertive community treatment (ACT) and supported employment have been developed to treat patients with a “severe mental illness” [1], ie, a mental disorder that has each of the following characteristics:

Severe symptoms and behavioral impairment

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 17, 2017.
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