Paid Sick Leave and Psychological Distress: An Analysis of U.S. Workers

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Paid sick leave is increasingly identified as a social justice issue having important implications for health and wellness; however, little is known about its relationship to mental health. Data from the 2015 cross section of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS; 2015) were used to examine the relationship between paid sick leave and psychological distress during the last 30 days among N = 17,897 working United States adults. The 6-item Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6), a valid and reliable instrument for assessing psychological distress in population based samples, was used to measure the outcome variable of interest. The K6 score was computed from 6 questions and was regressed on paid sick leave status, after controlling for variables known to be related to psychological distress. Results indicated that workers who lack paid sick leave benefits report a statistically significant higher level of psychological distress, and are 1.45 times more likely to report their distress symptoms interfere a lot with their life or activities compared with workers with paid sick leave. This research adds to a body of work analyzing institutional structures and social determinants of health. Findings support the potential value of paid sick leave as an intervention to promote behavioral health.

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