A conceptual review of functioning: implications for the development of consumer outcome measures


Ellie M.Fossey Lecturer (Correspondence) School of Occupational Therapy, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria 3086, Australia. Email: E.Fossey@latrobe.edu.au


Objective: Australia’s National Mental Health Strategy aims to achieve improved consumer outcomes. The development and refinement of consumer outcome measures is targeted within the Second National Mental Health Plan. The National Standards for Mental Health Services identify measures of functioning, quality of life and satisfaction with services as relevant to assessing and monitoring consumer outcome. Consumers have described gauging their own recovery through the achievement of functional goals in everyday life. This paper reviews how functioning is viewed within the mental health field, and implications for developing better functional outcome measures.

Method: Literature describing the development of measures of functioning, principles of outcome measurement, and functional outcomes for people with severe mental illness was identified, using PsycLIT. A review yielded themes reflecting a number of assumptions about the concept of functioning.

Results: Functioning is inadequately defined, raising issues about what is focused on, and from whose viewpoint, each of which has implications for using measures of functioning to monitor consumer outcome. Conflation of dissimilar functional domains, and flawed assumptions about the importance of symptomatology in influencing functional outcome limit the sensitivity to meaningful change of functional measures. Consumer perspectives are relatively neglected in functional tool development.

Conclusions: A conceptual framework that recognizes lived experience and the interaction between persons and their environment is much needed to guide the development of functional outcome measures. Qualitative and quantitative research methodologies should be used to advance understanding of functioning and to address limitations of current approaches to functional outcome measurement.