Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

Helping Individuals with Severe Mental Illness Achieve Recovery Goals

Michelle Salyers, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Psychology and Co-Director, Indiana ACT Center of Indiana

Five to ten million Americans of all ages suffer from schizophrenia, manic-depressive (bipolar) disorders and other severe mental illnesses. These illnesses are chronic brain diseases that can profoundly disrupt a person's ability to think, feel and relate to others.

Recently appointed School of Science at IUPUI Associate Professor of Psychology Michelle Salyers, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, mental health services administrator and researcher, has long been interested in the severely mentally ill and is a national leader in Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), a care management model which provides highly individualized psychiatric, social work, vocational and other services from a dedicated team. One of the primary goals for ACT is to help mentally ill individuals live at home rather than in a hospital, nursing home, jail, or on the streets.

“ACT programs have a track record of success in reducing far costlier hospitalizations and other adverse consequences of lack of treatment,” said Salyers. An active mental health services researcher, she has published peer reviewed articles and book chapters in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation, several of which include evaluations of ACT. She published one of the first studies to show that individuals could graduate from ACT programs. “This study contributed to the idea of recovery - that people with severe mental illness can have meaningful lives where they can contribute to society,” she said. For the past 9 years, Salyers has co-directed the Indiana ACT Center, which helped develop 31 ACT teams based at community mental health facilities across the state.

Michelle Salyers“With our experience in implementing this evidence-based practice, we have been able to help other states set up similar technical assistance centers for their ACT teams. We have worked with Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, New York and other states, telling them about our experiences, giving them suggestions, and hopefully enabling them to avoid some of our start-up bumps in the road,” she said.

Her research on ACT programs and their success with the severely mentally ill has contributed to the evidence base that is making ACT of growing interest to state governments, advocacy organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and families of the severely mentally ill.

In addition to her work with ACT, she conducts research in Illness Management and Recovery (IMR), a program to help people to learn better ways to cope with the effects of having a mental illness. Her research helps clinicians learn about evidence-based practices like ACT and IMR and more recently to learn ways to prevent burnout in themselves.

“Helping individuals with severe mental illness focus on personal recovery goals and then learning the skills and knowledge they need to achieve these goals is the ultimate objective of everything I do,” said Salyers.

Salyers is also a Regenstrief Institute Investigator and a Research Scientist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center on Implementing Evidence-based Practice at the Roudebush VA Medical Center.