Depression and the Ability to Work

Published in: Psychiatric Services, v. 55, no. 1, Jan. 2004, p. 29-34

Posted on on January 01, 2004

by Lynn Elinson, Patricia Houck, Steven C. Marcus, Harold Alan Pincus

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OBJECTIVE: Depression can have a serious impact on a person's ability to work. The purpose of this study was to describe depressed persons who work and depressed persons who do not work and to identify factors related to depressed persons' working. METHODS: The combined 1994 and 1995 National Health Interview Survey Disability Supplement was used to identify persons aged 18 to 69 with depression. Sociodemographic, health, functional, and disability characteristics of working depressed persons and nonworking depressed persons were compared with use of a chi square test of significance. After adjustment for sociodemographic variables, multiple logistic regression analysis was used to identify factors associated with work among depressed persons. RESULTS: Approximately half of the persons who reported major depression were in the labor force. Compared with nonworking depressed persons, working depressed persons tended to be younger, to be male, to be better educated, to have a higher income, to live alone or with a nonrelative, and to live in an urban or suburban location. They less often perceived themselves as unable to work or as disabled and were healthier and less impaired by social, cognitive, and physical limitations than their nonworking counterparts. After sociodemographic factors were controlled for, health and functional characteristics were strongly associated with depressed persons' working. CONCLUSIONS: Depressed persons who work and who do not work differed across sociodemographic, health, functional, and disability factors. Understanding the factors associated with depressed persons' working and not working may help policy makers, employers, and clinicians shape health care benefits packages, employee assistance programs, disability programs, and treatment programs appropriately. In particular, it may be important to focus on individuals with depression and comorbid general health conditions.

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