August 1, 2012 – Feeling tired and lethargic. Having tense emotions. These are just a few factors that may affect a worker’s decision to take sick leave. Working with Australian and British researchers, investigators at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health found that anxiety and depression can heighten the risk of sick leave.
According to the researchers, mental disorders like anxiety and depression will affect one in three people at least once in their lifetime. The symptoms of mental disorders can impact the emotional, cognitive, and social state of an individual. Past studies have also discovered a connection between mental disorders and sick leave. In particular, prolonged sick leave can add to avoidance behavior, making it more difficult for employees to go back work after a break.
However, research hasn’t determined if mental disorder heightens the chance of sick leave or if sick leave causes more mental disorder. Researchers believe that the study is important in looking at the long-term relationship between sick leave and mental disorders to better understand how to develop effective interventions.
“Surprisingly, we found that anxiety alone is a stronger risk factor for prolonged and frequent sick leave than depression alone. Further, anxiety seems to be a relatively stable risk factor for sick leave, as we found an increased risk of sickness absence up to six years after the anxiety level was assessed,” explained lead author Ann Kristin Knudsen, a PhD student at the University of Bergen and the Division of Mental Health at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, in a prepared statement.
In the project, 13,436 participants were observed for their anxiety and depression levels. The researchers utilized the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale to measure common mental disorders. Six years later, the participants were given a follow-up; the scientists took down information on sick leave and any causal factors, like physical health and socioeconomic status.
The researchers believe that the findings demonstrate that common mental disorders can cause people to take prolonged sick leave, defined as more than 90 days, and also repeated sick leave. Those who have both anxiety and depression have the highest risk of having prolonged risk leave. Lastly, the study also states that anxiety has more impact than depression.
It was also the first study of its kind to complete a follow-up on how mental disorders can have long term effects on sick leave. In effect, some participants with common mental disorders had many episodes of sick leave during the follow-up period. Researchers believe that it shows that sick leave and mental health problems are associated with one another.
“Previous research has largely been based on patient data, organizational data or diagnoses of sick leave certificates, or in studies where the prevalence of mental disorder was measured during sick leave. The latter is problematic because we do not know what comes first, sick leave or mental health problems,” noted Knudsen in the statement.
In moving forward, the investigators hope to look at how health professionals can determine anxiety and other mental disorders to deter prolonged sick leave or multiple sick leave episodes.