Cognitive Functioning

Cognitive functioning: supporting people with mental health conditions experiencing cognitive difficulties

Early in 2015 MHCC conducted a study in collaboration with the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences (Occupational Therapy). The study sought to investigate the knowledge and skills required by the mental health and human services workforce to effectively support and improve outcomes for people with lived experience of mental health conditions living in the community, with particular reference to those experiencing impaired cognitive functioning.

The final document Cognitive functioning: supporting people with mental health conditions represented the literature mapping process undertaken to inform a report and recommendations on the issues and challenges experienced by the community managed sector supporting consumers experiencing cognitive difficulties. Findings from the literature scan suggested that cognitive impairments are often hidden in nature, and cognition should be an important consideration for workers, when supporting people with mental health conditions. The report’s findings correlate closely to international research suggesting that cognitive difficulties significantly contribute to poor functional outcomes. Difficulties maintaining work and social connections, living independently and acquiring skills form a large component of the disability experienced by people with mental health conditions, particularly schizophrenia and affective disorders. Evidence also suggests that some medications can have marked cognitive-impairing effects on consumers.


A key recommendation from the study was that training and skill development for the community and public mental health and human services workforce is proposed for workers to be better equipped with the skills and competences to:

  • Identify and recognise when their clients are experiencing cognitive difficulties and how this may impact on their functional abilities
  • Utilise strategies to assist clients who may be experiencing cognitive difficulties in the areas of attention, memory, planning and organisation, to undertake daily activities and maintain independent living.


The project has progressed through collaboration with Marathon Health, a Primary Health Network in Western NSW to deliver on these recommendations.

MHCC have developed a training module which was launched at TheMHs 2017. It sets out to deliver on a number of learning outcomes including: understanding the complex relationship between mental illness and cognitive function, and the relationship between different ‘lifestyle’ factors and cognitive functioning.  The training also aims to help workers recognise when a person is experiencing cognitive challenges and how they impact everyday functioning; when a cognitive assessment may be required and how they may use results and recommendations to tailor support plans. Similarly, the training provides approaches to work collaboratively with a person to identify their recovery goals and select tailored strategies that reflect their cognitive needs, and apply principles that support learning strategies for improved function.

Download the TheMHS paper

Cognition and Recovery Training

Cognitive difficulties affect many areas of a person’s daily functioning and are a barrier to independent living. Learn how to recognise when a person is experiencing cognitive challenges and how to work collaboratively with a person to support them to identify recovery goals and select tailored strategies.

This course enables workers to support individuals to significantly improve long-term outcomes that align with recovery goals and personal values, a vital focus in the emerging NDIS environment.

Find out more about this training

For more information, on the project contact Corinne Henderson, Senior Policy Advisor, at