Mental health care users’ perceptions and experiences of a hospital-based vocational rehabilitation programme in a rural setting
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Return to work is a recognised goal of rehabilitation by the occupational therapy discipline that is addressed through vocational rehabilitation as a key feature of work practice. Programmes that fall under the umbrella of vocational rehabilitation include work preparation and training, work hardening and supported employment. In the case of mental health care users (MHCU), meaningful employment contributes to their sense of identity and the prevention of relapse. Vocational rehabilitation is thus important in preparing MHCU for self-employment or employment in the community after they are discharged from the hospital. There is however a dearth of literature pertaining to how vocational rehabilitation programmes particularly in a rural setting, is experienced by MHCU in South Africa. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore the experiences and perceptions of MHCU regarding the usefulness of the vocational rehabilitation programme at a rural hospital in enhancing their worker roles. A qualitative research approach and exploratory descriptive research design was utilised. Purposive sampling was used to select participants for the study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten MHCU participants as well as two focus groups. Semi-structured interviews were furthermore conducted with two key informants. All interviews and the focus group discussion were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed through thematic data analysis. Strategies implemented to ensure trustworthiness included member checking and peer review. Ethics clearance was obtained from the UWC Research Committee and permission to conduct the study at the hospital was requested from the Mpumalanga Provincial Health Ethics Committee and hospital management. Three themes originated from the findings of this study. Theme one describes the barriers experienced by people with mental illness while returning to work. Theme two describes the programme factors that influence return to work in respect of work habits, work skills, and community re-integration. Theme three captures the value of participating in the work programme as experienced by the participants. The findings of the study is related to the Model of The Ecology of Human Performance (EHP) to show how the vocational rehabilitation programme effected the MHCU’s return to work. The findings show that the context as well as the person’s skills and abilities are very important factors in reintegrating the user back to work. The study illuminated recommendations for the further development of the vocational rehabilitation programme.