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Scand J Work Environ Health. 2017 Nov 1;43(6):540-549. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.3675. Epub 2017 Oct 2.

The benefits of paid employment among persons with common mental health problems: evidence for the selection and causation mechanism.

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Erasmus University Medical Center, Department of Public Health, P.O. Box 2040, 3000 CA Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Objectives The aims of this study were to (i) investigate the impact of paid employment on self-rated health, self-esteem, mastery, and happiness among previously unemployed persons with common mental health problems, and (ii) determine whether there are educational inequalities in these effects. Methods A quasi-experimental study was performed with a two-year follow-up period among unemployed persons with mental health problems. Eligible participants were identified at the social services departments of five cities in The Netherlands when being diagnosed with a common mental disorder, primarily depression and anxiety disorders, in the past 12 months by a physician (N=749). Employment status (defined as paid employment for ≥12 hours/week), mental health [Short Form 12 (SF-12)], physical health (SF-12), self-esteem, mastery, and happiness were measured at baseline, after 12 months and 24 months. The repeated-measurement longitudinal data were analyzed using a hybrid method, combining fixed and random effects. The regression coefficient was decomposed into between- and within-individual associations, respectively. Results The between-individuals associations showed that persons working ≥12 hours per week reported better mental health (b=26.7, SE 5.1), mastery (b=2.7, SE 0.6), self-esteem (b=5.7, SE 1.1), physical health (b=14.6, SE 5.6) and happiness (OR 7.7, 95% CI 2.3-26.4). The within-individual associations showed that entering paid employment for ≥12 hours per week resulted in better mental health (b=16.3, SE 3.4), mastery (b=1.7, SE 0.4), self-esteem (b=3.4, SE 0.7), physical health (b=9.8, SE 2.9), and happiness (OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.4-6.9). Among intermediate- and high-educated persons, entering paid employment had significantly larger effect on mental health than among low-educated persons. Conclusions This study provides evidence that entering paid employment has a positive impact on self-reported health; thus work should be considered as an important part of health promotion programs among unemployed persons.

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