Mild psychological distress linked to long term disability

Published 2011-03-24 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:29

[NEWS, 24 March 2011] Even relatively mild psychological distress can lead to long term disability, according to a novel study from Karolinska Institutet published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The researchers tracked the health of more than 17,000 working adults up to the age of 64, who had been randomly selected from the population in the Stockholm area.

Cecilia MagnussonPhoto: Anders Lundström

All participants completed a validated questionnaire at the start of the study, to measure their mental health as well as other aspects of health and wellbeing. During the study period (2002-2007), 649 people started receiving disability benefit; 203 for a mental health problem and the remainder for physical ill health. Higher levels of psychological distress at the start of the study were associated with a significantly greater likelihood of subsequently being awarded disability benefits for at least a year because of an inability to work.

But even those with mild distress were up 70% more likely to receive disability benefits, after taking account of other factors likely to influence the results, such as other health problems, socioeconomic factors and alcohol intake. One in four of the benefits awarded for a physical illness, and almost two thirds awarded for a mental illness were attributable to mild psychological stress.

"One has to consider these findings in the context of modern working life, which places greater demands on employees, and social factors, such as fewer close personal relationships and supportive networks", says Associate Professor Cecilia Magnusson, who lead the study at the Department of Public Health Sciences. "It's important not to overmedicalize problems in everyday life. However, our findings suggest that the impact of mild psychological distress is likely to have been underestimated in society in general."


Dheeraj Rai, Kyriaki Kosidou, Michael Lundberg, Ricardo Araya, Glyn Lewis, Cecilia Magnusson

Psychological distress and risk of long term disability: population based longitudinal study

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Online First 24 March 2011; doi 10.1136/jech.2010.119644

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