Depression does not always mean loss of work ability

Submitted on Mon, 04/09/2018 - 10:14
Sami Pirkola/ Kuva: Jonne Renvall
“If a person begins to develop symptoms of depression, talking with a healthcare professional would be a good start”, says professor Sami Pirkola.

Changing the job description may help to solve problems

Text: Jaakko Kinnunen
Photo: Jonne Renvall

Depression affects many Finns. People suffering from depression may find working impossible, which means that they have lost their work ability. Professor of Social Psychiatry Sami Pirkola reminds that because depression and the disablity caused by it are often intertwined, it is a good idea to tackle the problems together.

“Motivating and supporting work to which the patient is dedicated helps to cure depression. Depression does not always have to lead to disability,” Pirkola says.

According to Pirkola, flexible work arrangements should be considered if the patient is unable to perform his or her daily work duties.

“Different arrangements can be tried in order to find a solution that suits all parties. The most important thing is to proceed at the patient’s own pace. However, sometimes the obstacles are so big that a sick leave is the only option,” he explains.

Unique symptoms

Depression symptoms may vary greatly from one individual to another. When evaluating work ability, it is important to take into account the effect the symptoms have on job demands.

For example, anorexia and problems with sleeping reduce work ability in physically taxing jobs whereas difficulties in concentration, lack of initiative, and problems in reading and writing are particularly harmful in white-collar work.

“However, many patients want to keep working. People with depression often find it hard to work with other people. This can also make working very difficult,” Pirkola says.

Factors that predispose for depression can be biological, psychological or social. Many of the factors are related to individual depression susceptibility, which is a prolonged feature. Sometimes the factors are triggering in nature and sometimes they can be work-related.

Depression has not increased

In public debate today, much is said about growing work demands and increasing work-related stress and fatigue. Studies have shown that disability caused by depression has increased in recent years whereas the prevalence of depression has not. In other words, depression as a syndrome has not increased, at least not to the extent that it would explain why people are more frequently out of work due to depression-related disability. The reasons of this equation are currently being examined more and more.

“Have people’s relationships to work or the work content changed? Or are people suffering from depression not hired in the first place? The spirit of the time and the working atmosphere certainly play a role, but there is no definite answer,” Pirkola says.

Talking is the first step in healing

Knowledge about depression has increased, and different forms of treatment have developed. Pirkola urges people to pay attention and be open-minded.

“If a person begins to develop symptoms of depression, talking with a healthcare professional would be a good start. There are quite a lot of different treatment methods today. It is also good to be aware that taking sick leave is not an automatic solution. Modifying the work content or tackling other difficult issues might be a way to solve some of the problems. The state of each patient must, of course, be examined individually,” Pirkola says.