Mental illness more likely to recur than physical illness: Study

Inadequate resources for employees contribute to relapses

Employees who go on disability leave due to a mental illness are seven times more likely to go on a leave again in the future, according to a new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

The study evaluated the employment data of over 10,000 workers from a large Canadian employer and compared several variables to analyze patterns of disability and found workers who have had a disability leave are more at risk of having another one.

Comparing patterns of leave taken due to physical disability with those for mental health disability, the likelihood of reoccurrence for those with a physical illness doubled while those with mental illness were seven times more likely to reoccur. There are several possibilities for this disparity, according to Carolyn Dewa, head of CAMH's Work and Well-being Research and Evaluation Program and principal investigator of the study.

First, mental illness is chronic in nature and relapse is common. Even when symptoms improve there are often persistent effects. Another contributor may be that there are not adequate resources offered to workers to address their mental health needs.

"Often the support and services available to employees when they return to work does not address the chronic nature of mental illness," said Dewa. "It's important that employers implement a continuum of care and support - both to help prevent a person from needing to go on leave, as well as to help maintain their mental wellness upon their return to work."

"The treatment of mental illness can often be complex and may involve more than just the patient and their doctor or therapist," said David Goldbloom, CAMH's senior medical advisor.

"Successful management of mental illness involves proper followup care and medication, counselling, social support both from loved ones and the workplace, as well as ongoing access to meaningful employment. All these may need to come together in order to get better and stay better."

Employers need to educate themselves and their employees about creating a workplace that promotes mental health, said Dewa. This includes addressing the needs of those with mental health issues in the workplace and encouraging the development of effective interventions for promoting mental health in the working population.

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