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Sick on the Job?

Myths and Realities about Mental Health and Work

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The costs of mental ill-health for the individuals concerned, employers and society at large are enormous. Mental illness is responsible for a very significant loss of potential labour supply, high rates of unemployment, and a high incidence of sickness absence and reduced productivity at work. In particular, mental illness causes too many young people to leave the labour market, or never really enter it, through early moves onto disability benefit. Today, between one-third and one-half of all new disability benefit claims are for reasons of mental ill-health, and among young adults that proportion goes up to over 70%.   Indeed, mental ill-health is becoming a key issue for the well-functioning of OECD’s labour markets and social policies and requires a stronger focus on policies addressing mental health and work issues. Despite the very high costs to the individuals and the economy, there is only little awareness about the connection between mental health and work, and the drivers behind the labour market outcomes and the level of inactivity of people with mental ill-health. Understanding these drivers is critical for the development of more effective policies. This report aims to identify the knowledge gaps and begin to narrow them by reviewing evidence on the main challenges and barriers to better integrating people with mental illness in the world of work.  

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Measuring Mental Health and its Links with Employment

This chapter reviews methodological and measurement issues and lays out the key policy questions to be addressed. Mental ill-health is measured from national health surveys which use a reliable mental health instrument. A transparent methodology is used to make results comparable across different instruments, taking advantage of findings from epidemiological studies on the prevalence of mental disorders. These suggest that at any one moment around 5% of the working-age population have a severe and another 15% a common mental disorder. Both groups should be targeted by policy makers. The chapter discusses the characteristics of mental illhealth, including e.g. the very early onset, and their implications for policy making. The key challenge to be addressed is the rising labour market exclusion attributable to mental ill-health despite no indication of an increase in the prevalence of such disorders. A framework for policy development is proposed, based on two dimensions, the severity of the mental disorder and the person’s labour force status.

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