Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of an activating intervention designed to reduce sick leave duration in patients with emotional distress or minor mental disorders.
Method: In a 1.5-year randomized controlled trial, 194 patients with minor mental disorders received either an experimental intervention by social workers or general practitioners' usual care. The intervention focused on understanding causes, developing and implementing problem-solving strategies and promoting early work resumption. Outcome measures were sick leave duration, mental health and physical health (questionnaires included the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, the Four-Dimensional Symptom Questionnaire and SF-36), all measured at baseline at and 3, 6 and 18 months later. Multilevel analyses were used to evaluate differences between groups.
Results: The groups did not differ significantly on any of the outcome measures, except that the experimental group reported higher satisfaction with treatment.
Conclusion: Although the intervention has benefits, it was not successful at its primary goal (i.e., to reduce sick leave duration in patients with emotional distress or minor mental disorders). Programs aimed at the reduction of sick leave duration may yield better results if targeted at patients with more severe emotional problems than at those with exclusively emotional distress or minor mental disorders, or if delivered by caregivers who are closer to the work environment than are social workers, such as occupational physicians.