Mental disorders are conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, and overall mental health. There are many different types of mental disorders, each with its own unique set of symptoms and causes.
Researchers from Aarhus University have been able to shed light on some of the effects suffered by those with a mental disease by studying the data of all people aged 18 to 65 years registered in Denmark during a period of 22 years.
The study followed a total of 5,163,321 individuals in Denmark, 488,775 of whom were diagnosed with a mental disorder. The researchers discovered that all recognized mental illnesses are linked to a sizable loss of working life.
Also, although it is not news that those with mental illnesses are more likely to be out of work or get a disability pension, this study is the first to quantify an anticipated amount of time missed, explains leading author of the study, Associate Professor Oleguer Plana-Ripoll from the Department of Epidemiology at Aarhus University:
“It is not surprising that people diagnosed with mental disorders experience more time outside the workforce, we already knew that. But the magnitude surprised us, losing an average of 10.5 years of working life is a lot,” he says.
It is important to note that mental disorders can be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors, and that treatment may involve medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
The Danish Psychiatric Central Research Registry provided information on mental diseases, while administrative registries provided information on labor market variables, providing the researchers a clear picture of the effects of mental disorder diagnosis.
The cases of depression and anxiety diagnoses we have in this data set are the more severe cases who seek help from a psychiatrist. But there are many more cases who are treated by their own physician or might not receive treatment at all. While the average working life lost for these individuals is likely to be lower, we expect that mild cases of mental disorders are also associated with a reduction in working life because we observed that all types of mental disorders are to some extent.Professor Oleguer Plana-Ripoll
For Oleguer Plana-Ripoll, the findings showcase the substantial impact mental disorders have on the life of those diagnosed.
“Our study shows that patients with mental disorders to a very high degree are more unable to work or study compared to the average Danish population. There is a need to invest in programmes that reduce the number of working years lost and assist people with mental disorders in returning to the workforce,” he explains.
Schizophrenia has the biggest impact
The average amount of working years lost due to all mental disorders put together was found by the researchers to be 10.5 years. The researchers then dissected it into 24 distinct categories of mental disorders, demonstrating that some diagnoses had a greater influence on the patient’s capacity for work or study than others.
According to the study, those who are diagnosed with schizophrenia lose an average of 24 years of their working lives. Whereas people diagnosed with single or recurring depression lose around 10 years.
In the study, persons who have been diagnosed with mental disorders and have undergone psychiatric treatment are regarded to have more severe cases of such disorders. Examples of these disorders include depression and anxiety.
“But even though milder cases of depression and anxiety do not figure in the data used, those affected will most likely also experience time lost from studying or working,” says Oleguer Plana-Ripoll.
“The cases of depression and anxiety diagnoses we have in this data set are the more severe cases who seek help from a psychiatrist. But there are many more cases who are treated by their own physician or might not receive treatment at all. While the average working life lost for these individuals is likely to be lower, we expect that mild cases of mental disorders are also associated with a reduction in working life because we observed that all types of mental disorders are to some extent,” he explains.
Time lost to disability pension going down
The researchers also discovered that in Denmark, between 1995 and 2016, the number of working years lost owing to disability compensation nearly fell in half. This is in line with a 2013 policy change that makes it more difficult for anyone, particularly those who are younger, to acquire a disability pension.
In 1995-2000, working years lost due to a disability pension amounted to 9.7 years. This dropped to 5.2 years in the period 2011-2016. Yet that decline has practically been offset by a rise in the number of working years lost to unemployment or sick leave, which went from 1.8 to 4.4 years.
A connection Oleguer Plana-Ripoll hopes to pursue in another study. “This study was descriptive, meaning we just looked at and summarised the numbers. We plan to conduct a new study in which we will examine the reasons behind these numbers, as well as take a deeper look into the possible effects of the 2013 reform.”