Depressed and absent from work: predicting prolonged depressive symptomatology among employees

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The World Health Organization considers depression a major health problem and a leading cause of disability.


To identify factors which may help to reduce depressive symptoms in a sample of employees sick listed due to mental health problems.


Longitudinal cohort study of employees sick listed for 12–20 weeks due to mental health problems. Individuals were followed for 1 year. After a screening questionnaire, we conducted standardized interviews by telephone, assessing individuals’ mental health, work characteristics and actions by employers.


A total of 555 employees commenced the study and 436 participated in the second interview. Response rates were 42% for the screening questionnaire, 93% for the first interview and 79% for the second interview. Individuals with low education and sole breadwinners showed a less favourable course of depressive symptoms. Work resumption (partial and full) and changing the employee's tasks (action by employer) promoted a more favourable course of depressive symptoms.


The findings point to the importance of work resumption and a change in work tasks in order to promote recovery. Using these insights, management of employees suffering from depressive complaints may be improved.

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