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Incidence rates of sickness absence related to mental disorders: a systematic literature review.

  • Author(s): Dewa, Carolyn S
  • Loong, Desmond
  • Bonato, Sarah
  • Hees, Hiske
  • et al.


Over the past decade, growing attention has been given to the mental health of workers. One way to examine the mental health of workers is to look at the incidence rates of mental illness-related sickness absence. There is a scarcity of literature in which the incidence rates of mental illness-related sickness absence among different countries have been considered together. The purpose of this systematic literature review is to address the question: Are there similarities and differences in the incidence rates of mental disorder-related sickness absence among and within OECD identified Social Democratic, Liberal and Latin American country categories? In this paper, we seek to identify differences and similarities in the literature rather than to explain them. With this review, we lay the groundwork for and point to areas for future research as well as to raise questions regarding reasons for the differences and similarities.


A systematic literature search of the following databases were performed: Medline Current, Medline In-process, PsycINFO, Econlit and Web of Science. The search period covered 2002-2013. The systematic literature search focused on working adults between 18-65 years old who had not retired and who had mental and/or substance abuse disorders. Intervention studies were excluded. The search focused on medically certified sickness absences.


A total of 3,818 unique citations were identified. Of these, 10 studies met the inclusion/exclusion criteria; six were from Social Democratic countries. Their quality ranged from good to excellent. There was variation in the incidence rates reported by the studies from the Social Democratic, Liberal and Latin American countries in this review.


The results of this systematic review suggest that this is an emerging area of inquiry that needs to continue to grow. Priority areas to support growth include cross jurisdictional collaboration and development of a typology characterizing the benefit generosity and work integration policies of sickness absence schemes. Finally, the literature should be updated to reflect changes in sickness absence benefit schemes over time.

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