Life skills programmes are no better than standard care or support groups for people with chronic mental illness


People with chronic mental illnesses such as schizophrenia often struggle to cope with the basic tasks that life throws at them. Their health condition and the often debilitating effects of medication can make simple things like going to the shop or cleaning the house almost insurmountable hurdles.

Various rehabilitation therapies are used to help people experiencing these difficulties and one group of treatments that have become quite popular are life skills programmes, which are defined as any group or individual programme involving independent functioning in daily living. These programmes could include training in managing money, organising and running a home, domestic skills and personal self-care and related interpersonal skills.

This new Cochrane review investigated the effects of life skills programmes compared with standard care or other comparable therapies for people with chronic mental health problems.

The reviewers only found 7 randomised controlled trials to include in their analysis and rated the overall quality of the evidence as very low.

Here’s what they found:

  • There was no significant difference in life skills performance between people given life skills training and standard care (1 RCT, n = 32, MD -1.10; 95% CI -7.82 to 5.62)
  • Life skills training did not improve or worsen study retention (5 RCTs, n = 345, RR 1.16; 95% CI 0.40 to 3.36)
  • There was no significant difference in PANSS positive, negative or total scores between life skills intervention and standard care
  • Quality of life scores were the same between participants given life skills training (1 RCT, n = 32, MD -0.02; 95% CI -0.07 to 0.03) and standard care

The reviewers concluded:

Currently there is no good evidence to suggest life skills programmes are effective for people with chronic mental illnesses. More robust data are needed from studies that are adequately powered to determine whether life skills training is beneficial for people with chronic mental health problems.


Tungpunkom P, Maayan N, Soares-Weiser K. Life skills programmes for chronic mental illnesses. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000381. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000381.pub3.

Life skills programmes for chronic mental illnesses (Cochrane summary).

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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