New Cochrane review: Work modifications help depressed people return to work more quickly

Press release, Helsinki 16.2.2015

Depression often leads to loss of functioning, which is why sick leaves are common among those suffering from this illness. A recently published Cochrane review summarized studies on the effectiveness of both work-directed and clinical measures for reducing sickness absences of employees suffering from depression. According to the review, modifying work activities, for example, together with regular treatment may decrease the duration of sick leave among depressed people.

The review focused on 23 European and American published studies that examined the effectiveness of different measures for improving the work ability of depressed employees. The studies incorporated 5996 participants with either a major depressive disorder or severe depressive symptoms. These symptoms include low mood, loss of interest, feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness, and sleep problems.

Depression affects 300 million people worldwide. About five per cent of the Finnish population suffer from depression, and about 35 500 Finns receive a disability pension because of it.

Moderate effect of work modifications

The review found evidence that work modifications, or coaching, combined with regular treatment moderately decreased the sickness absences of depressed employees (three studies, 251 participants). Three studies also found evidence that cognitive-behavioural therapy provided online or via the phone somewhat reduced depressed people’s sickness absences when compared to regular treatment (326 participants in total). According to one high-quality study, a special care programme at the workplace also lowered the duration of sickness absence more than normal treatment.

Anti-depressants do not decrease sickness absences

Three studies found that enhancing primary health care through quality improvement programmes did not notably lessen sickness absences. Anti-depressants also had no consistent effect on sickness absences (three studies).

Varied effectiveness of other measures

According to one study, supervised stretching exercises decreased sickness absences to a greater extent than relaxation exercises. However, two other studies found that exercise (running or gym workouts) had no diminishing effect on sickness absences.

Only five work-directed intervention studies met the inclusion criteria for the review, thus there is clearly a need for more studies. In order to provide more information to help reduce the sickness absences of depressed people, clinical intervention studies should also take into account the effect of the interventions above on employment.

Further information:

Jos Verbeek, Senior Researcher, FIOH, tel +358 46 810 8709, jos.verbeek[at]ttl.fi

Publication:

Nieuwenhuijsen K, Faber B, Verbeek J, Neumeyer-Gromen A, Hees H, Verhoeven A, van der Feltz-Cornelis C, Bültmann U. Interventions to improve return to work in depressed people. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD006237. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006237.pub3

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health researches, develops and specializes in well-being at work. It promotes occupational health and safety and the well-being of workers. It is an independent institution under public law, working under the administrative sector of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. It has six regional offices, and its headquarters are in Helsinki. It employs about 700 people.

About Us

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (Työterveyslaitos) researches, develops and specializes in well-being at work. It promotes occupational health and safety and the well-being of workers. It is an independent institution under public law, working under the administrative sector of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. It has five regional offices, and its headquarters are in Helsinki. It employs about 560 people.

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