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Sick on the Job?

Myths and Realities about Mental Health and Work

image of Sick on the Job?

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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Work, Working Conditions and Worker Productivity

This chapter investigates the connection between mental health and work and presents new evidence on the position of persons with mental health problems in the labour market in a number of OECD countries. The findings show that, despite the positive effects of employment on mental health, too many persons with a mental disorder are out of work. Persons with a severe mental disorder are 6-7 times more likely to be unemployed than people with no such disorder, and those with a common mental disorder 2-3 times. At the same time, however, the findings also suggest that more persons with a mental disorder are employed than is generally thought. This confirms the urgent need to address mental health issues at the workplace since many jobs or particular tasks can cause job strain and exacerbate mental illness. To ensure that workers with poor mental health can retain their jobs and work productively is therefore a key objective calling for policies to improve job quality, working conditions and management practices to prevent unnecessary exclusion from the labour market.

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