Depression or burnout cases in Belgium have almost doubled in five years

Depression or burnout cases in Belgium have almost doubled in five years
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The number of employees, self-employed and unemployed people who have been off work for more than a year due to depression or burnout has increased by 45% in five years, however, these official figures are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

The effects of the pandemic on the increasing number of burnouts at work were already confirmed in a previous survey published in June this year. Now, figures from Belgium's National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance (Inami), published by L'Echo, have revealed the impact of these specific mental health problems in the longer term.

At the end of last year, more than 485,000 people in Belgium were no longer working or looking for work for more than a year due to illness, representing an increase of around 25% in five years. Zooming in on the figures, the number of Belgians who were off work specifically due to depression or burnout increased by 45% in this same period.

"This is a trend that has been going on for several years. Moreover, we still don't know very well how to prevent depression and burnout. Research is still often focused on the diagnosis and not so much on the treatment of the illnesses," said labour market expert Stijn Baert (UGent).

Meanwhile, the real figures are probably even higher, given that civil servants have their own health insurance scheme, meaning their situations are not included in the figures shared by Inami, which organises, manages and monitors compulsory insurance in Belgium.

High costs, little prevention

A burnout diagnosis refers to a condition that is clinically observable. As the number of cases is exploding, Baert stressed the need to recognise burnout as an illness, especially as the rise in figures related to an increase in costs.

The latest figures regarding the cost of people being off in these conditions, covered by health insurance companies, date back to 2020 when €1.6 billion was spent on depression and burn-out.

The fact that more people are being diagnosed with burnout and the gradual dismantling of early retirement are behind the rise in cases. In this latter group, many show signs of mild burn-out, which puts them in a kind of grey area, as this is more difficult to diagnose.

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However, cases of depression and burnout clearly increase with age, until after the age of 60, when the figures start to fall again, largely because many people in this age group are already no longer working.

While the Federal Government is actively looking to reduce the number of long-term sick employees by hanging fines over the heads of companies with too many long-term sick people in their workforce, however, a real prevention policy for depression and burnout at work continues to be lacking.

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