How long should people with mental health problems be off
It is difficult to predict how long a person who develops a
depressive or anxiety disorder should be off work. We know that
many people with these disorders make a slow recovery, whilst for
others they are transient. People often quote a natural recovery
rate of only 20% for depression and 5% for anxiety disorders and
the majority of people need support to achieve recovery from these
common mental health problems. Importantly, what we do know is that
the longer a person is off work, the less likely they are to return
to work. For people who are off sick from work owing to mental
health problems for six months the chances of them returning to
work within two years is small, with only about 10% achieving this.
This is similar to the rates of return for those who go off work
owing to back pain.
It is important that peoples mental health problems receive
early recognition and intervention. Two things are important to
- People do not have to be entirely symptom free to remain in or
return to work successfully.
- It is not enough just to provide early and effective treatment;
efforts to assist the patient back to work should be carried out at
the same time.
For those people who develop mental health problems whilst in
work it is important to try and help them keep their job.
Clinicians working in primary care play a key role in this and
should, in addition to providing access to medication and
psychological therapies, work with the patient at an early stage on
a return to work plan. For those working in Secondary care it is
important to discover among new patients referred to the clinics
and community teams or admitted to inpatient units whether they are
in work and liaise with their GP and employers. They may also need
to be linked in to the local vocational scheme and given
appropriate benefits advice.
Many people with long term mental health problems, particularly
those with a diagnosis of psychosis, will not be in work and may
not have worked for many years, if ever. These people can and do
work, but may need greater support to find them suitable
employment. For these groups there is ample evidence that well
organised supported employment schemes can be successful in helping
them find jobs.