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May 9, 2011

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Mental-health problems the basis for most new benefit claims

Mental illness has overtaken musculoskeletal disorders as the most common reason for claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB), the results of an 11-year study have found.

Between 1997 and 2007 scientists analysed new IB awards for mental-health disorders and for musculoskeletal problems like back, neck and arm pain. Together, the two categories accounted for more than half of all IB awards and were responsible for more than 3 million new awards during the study period.

The ratio of new claims for mental illness to those for MSDs more than doubled, owing to a decline of more than 50 per cent in new awards for the latter. While the most obvious reason for this change might seem to be the reduction in heavy industry and working practices that involve strain on the musculoskeletal system, the researchers concluded instead that it reflects changes in people’s health beliefs and expectations. The stigma associated with diagnosis of mental illness is less than in the past, and there is also more awareness now that activity, rather than complete bed rest, is better for back pain.

Professor David Coggon, who led the research, said it is important to understand the reasons for the trend. He explained: “Care is needed that we do not over-emphasise risks to musculoskeletal health from physical activities such as lifting.”

Dr Olivia Carlton, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), agreed, adding: “As occupational-health doctors we know that helping people with health problems stay in work is not just about medical treatment; it is much more complex and can need a range of interventions. We also understand how important work is as a determinant for a healthy life.”

According to the SOM, the UK has 2.6 million incapacity-benefit claimants of working age – far more than the number on employment benefits. In April, the Government began the national roll-out of the Work Capability Assessment programme, which has been criticised by campaigners as not sophisticated enough to help those with mental-health needs.

The research is published today (9 May) in SOM’s journal, Occupational Medicine.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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