Objective: There is no information on the duration of absence of depressed Dutch workers. The aim of this study was to determine the duration of sickness absence due to depressive symptoms in the working population.
Methods: In this observational study of 15% of the Dutch working population, all absence episodes (n = 9,910) starting between April 2002 and November 2005 diagnosed as depression were selected. For these episodes, Kaplan-Meier survival curves were computed.
Results: The mean (and median) duration of sickness absence due to depressive symptoms was 200 (179) days in men and 213 (201) days in women. In both sexes, older employees had longer absence durations. Depressive symptoms had an estimated rate of chronicity (1 year of absence) of 24%. Employees in educational and public services (232 days in men and 242 days in women), commercial services (213 days in men and 219 days in women) and health care (212 days in men and 214 days in women) had the longest mean duration of absence with depressive symptoms. Men in the industrial sector (189 days) had the shortest absence periods. Employees in large sized companies (188 days in men and 208 days in women) had shorter absence episodes as compared to companies with less than 75 employees (214 days in men and 226 days in women).
Conclusions: Workers with depressive symptoms were absent for a long time. Explanations for the long duration are discussed. It is recommended to develop and apply tools for recognizing employees at risk for chronic depression.