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Return to Work with Mental Disorders: Barriers and Facilitators

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Common mental disorders (CMDs), such as depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders and stress-related complaints, are among the leading causes of disability worldwide. At any moment, 20% of the working-age population suffer from mental health problems, which have a major impact in terms of lost productivity. Indeed, 60 to 80% of the societal costs of CMDs are due to sickness absence, presenteeism (i.e. reduced productivity at work), work disability and unemployment. CMDs belong to the most prevalent causes of sickness absence and work disability, making it a highly relevant problem for employers. The return to work process is a complex process in which different stakeholders, such as the workers, employer, health care professionals and occupational health specialists are involved and have to cooperate. Despite the severity of the problem, research about the determinants of return to work and effective interventions for workers with CMD on sick leave remain inconclusive. Also, the return to work research has almost exclusive focus on the act of return to work itself (e.g. the work status or first day of RTW) with little knowledge available on the RTW process and what happens during the process of sick leave and after initial work resumption. The question arises as to which factors act as barriers or facilitators in this process and whether certain factors are more relevant at certain moments or circumstances during the RTW process.


You will learn:

  • about barriers to and facilitators of return to work after sick leave in workers with common mental disorders
  • about the perspective of workers, managers, mental health professionals, occupational health professionals and general physicians on RTW management
  • about the practical implications for occupational health&Safety professionals and (HR)managers on mental health and absence management 

Take-home messages:

  • At any moment, 20% of the working-age population suffer from mental health problems
  • Return to work is a complex process in which different stakeholders play a role
  • To prevent sickness absence (line) managers should improve their knowledge and skills in guiding workers with mental health problems
  • For a successful return to work workers need to be supported in gaining self-awareness and regaining control
  • A personalise workers' return to work support is needed by focusing on the workers' values, views and needs
  • For a swift return to work good collaboration between health care professionals, the employer and the worker is needed

​​Margot Joosen, PhD

Senior Researcher, Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Dr. Margot Joosen is a health scientist and holds a PhD in occupational medicine. She currently works as a senior researcher at Tilburg University, The Netherlands. Her research focuses on mental health at work and sustainable employability of workers with health complaints such as (common) mental disorders, cancer survivors and complex health problems. She supervises several PhD students and post-doc researchers in this area and is project leader a large project on return to work after sick leave in workers with common mental disorders, which is financially supported by IOSH.

Partially funded by:​


Last Modified: 1/26/2018 3:58 PM