Work outcomes of sickness absence related to mental disorders: A systematic literature review

Carolyn S Dewa, Desmond Loong, Sarah Bonato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Objectives: The purpose of this systematic literature review is to examine the current state of knowledge regarding the return-to-work outcomes of sickness absences related to mental disorders that increase costs borne by employers. We address two questions: (1) Based on the existing literature, from the employer's perspective, what are the relevant economic return-towork outcomes for sickness absences related to mental disorders? and (2) From the employer's economic perspective, are there gaps in knowledge about the relevant return-to-work outcomes for sickness absences related to mental disorders? Setting: The included studies used administrative data from either an employer, insurer or occupational healthcare provider. Participants: Studies included working adults between 18 and 65 years old who had a sickness absence related to a mental disorder. Primary and secondary outcome measures: The studies considered two general return-to-work outcome categories: (1) outcomes focusing on return-to-work and (2) outcomes focusing on sickness absence recurrence. Results: A total of 3820 unique citations were identified. Of these, 10 studies were identified whose quality ranged from good to excellent. Half of the identified studies came from one country. The studies considered two characteristics of sickness absence: (1) whether and how long it took for a worker to return-towork and (2) sickness absence recurrence. None of the studies examined return-to-work outcomes related to work reintegration. Conclusions: The existing literature suggests that along with the incidence of sickness absence related to mental disorders, the length of sickness absence episodes and sickness absence recurrence (ie, number and time between) should be areas of concern. However, there also seems to be gaps in the literature regarding the work reintegration process and its associated costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere005533
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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