One in four people on sick leave from work is suffering from a psychosocial disorder, according to a survey carried out by health insurer Mutualités Libres.
The complaints in question are mainly burnout, depression and anxiety disorder, and women are disproportionately affected.
The study found that 24.8% of all initial diagnoses giving rise to sick leave was a psychosocial disorder. By the end of the sixth month of sick leave, the number of people now diagnosed with a psychosocial disorder had risen to more than 40%, suggesting that in some people, the psychological symptoms come on while the person is off work for some other reason.
The same level of four in ten was maintained among those who were off for a year, on the verge of becoming eligible for invalidity.
“Mental health problems remain an important reason for drop-out and long-term incapacity for work,” said Lode Godderis, professor of occupational medicine.
“And there is a chance that in these uncertain times this number will increase even more. Many people are afraid of the future, find it difficult to deal with uncertainty and experience a good deal of stress.”
Indeed, the figures on which the study is based were gathered among the insurer’s 60,000 member-clients, from 1 January 2018 and every six months until 31 December 2019. It is to be expected that a similar study taken during this pandemic would show even higher figures.
Office workers tend to be more vulnerable to psychosocial problems, which make up one-third of initial diagnoses of those on sick leave. That proportion rises to 55% after six months.
And women are more at risk than men, with 30% initially diagnosed with one of the psychosocial disorders, compared to 19% among men.
The national social security office INAMI had previously reported a predominance of women over men among those applying for invalidity benefits. The latest figures illustrate that the imbalance dates back to the very first day of sick leave.
“Prevention is the best remedy to prevent incapacity for work,” said Astrid Janssens, deputy medical director for the Mutualités. “That certainly applies to burnout, but also for bone and muscle diseases, for example: it makes sense for companies to organise more prevention actions.”
Investing in optimal working conditions and the well-being of employees is also an important precondition for preventing incapacity for work, she said.