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Informal work and common mental disorders.

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Dept. de Medicina Social, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Avenida Conselheiro Rosa e Silva, 377/1601, Gra├žas, Recife, Pernambuco, C. E. P.: 52020-220, Brasil.



In many developing countries, a large proportion of people work without the social and legislative protection accorded to those in the "formal" labour market. Formal and informal work are very distinct labour market destinations for those leaving unemployment. From a policy perspective, the value of encouraging unemployed people to take informal work depends both on how quickly individuals can be moved out of unemployment into informal work compared to other destinations, and how well individuals fare once in informal work. This paper investigates the association between informal work and common mental disorders in Northeast Brazil.


A cross-sectional survey of a random sample of private households included 683 adults aged 15 years and over living in area II of Olinda, Recife Metropolitan Region, Pernambuco, Brazil. Informal workers comprised self-employed and underemployed. The self-reporting questionnaire (SRQ) was used to estimate the prevalence of common mental disorders.


Informal workers had a higher prevalence of common mental disorders compared to those in formal employment. This was true before and after adjustment for sex, age, marital status and migration (OR 2.16, 95% CI 1.3-3.7) and for education and household per capita monthly income (OR 1.83, 95% CI 1.1-3.1).


Understanding causes of common mental disorders in different societies requires an understanding of the differing socioeconomic circumstances around the world. Working outside the protection of employment legislation is very common in many poorer countries and may have adverse consequences for psychological health.

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