Background: The incidence of mental health problems is rising. Large sex differences are found for mental health problems, which also is reflected in sick-leave. The aim of this study was to analyse the association of mental health problems with sickness absence in general.
Methods: Employed women (n = 1407) in four occupational groups, namely metal workers, enrolled nurses, medical secretaries and nurses, were included. Sick-leave data were collected through social insurance and employers' registers. Five indicators reflecting different aspects of mental health problems were analysed in relation to sickness absence.
Results: Women with mental health problems, irrespective of indicator used, had higher levels of sickness absence than women without mental health problems. The association was found for frequency, incidence, length and duration of sickness absence, and it was found also with respect to less severe forms of mental health problems. For example, women with worries had a frequency of 3.5 sick-leave spells per year, while women without worries had 2.5 spells. Furthermore, women with self-reported mental illness (SF-36) had a 1.93 times increase in sick-leave length over 1 year.
Conclusions: We conclude that mental health problems need to be recognised in relation to sickness absence, rehabilitation and prevention in all diagnoses.