Depression, poor physical health increase injured workers’ disability days

In brief

  • Poor physical health and more depressed mood significantly increased the total number of days that workers received compensation benefits.
  • While recognizing the importance of the physical health of workers, this study adds to our understanding of the role of depressed mood in the return-to-work process.
  • Workers could benefit from early identification of symptoms of depression, and from programs that treat these symptoms.

Published: January 2006

Why was this study done?

For injured workers, recovery and return to work involves more than physical healing. Several psychological factors can also affect this process. These factors include having symptoms of depression, fears of physical and work activities, and beliefs about their abilities to return to work. The focus of this study was to see if these factors could predict the duration of time a worker received compensation benefits after a work-related injury.

How was the study done?

Researchers recruited 187 injured workers who received compensation benefits because of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These are injuries to soft tissues such as muscles or tendons. Four to five weeks after the injury, workers were asked about symptoms of depression, fears that physical or work activities would increase their physical symptoms, beliefs in their abilities (self-efficacy), general health and other questions. The researchers analyzed the relationship between these factors and the workers' duration on compensation benefits over 12 months.

What did the researchers find?

Two factors significantly increased the total number of days that workers received compensation benefits: poor physical health and more depressed mood. This finding held after researchers considered the influence of other external factors, such as work conditions. Work-related factors, such as physical workload or psychological demands, were less important.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

One new aspect of this study is that researchers created and used a new measure for self-efficacy. One limitation is that the findings may not apply as well to workers who are absent for less than a week, since workers in this study had to have at least seven days off work.