Purpose: Common mental disorders (CMDs) are an important cause of work disability. Although CMDs are known to have high recurrence rates, little is known about the recurrence of sickness absence due to CMDs. This study examines the recurrence risk of sickness absence due to CMDs.
Methods: A cohort of 9,904 employees with a sickness absence due to CMDs, working in the Dutch Post or Telecommunication company, was studied over a 7-year period. Recurrence was defined as the start of at least one new episode of sickness absence with CMDs after complete return to work for at least 28 days. The recurrence density (RD) of sickness absence with CMDs was calculated per 1,000 person-years.
Results: Of the 9,904 employees with a first absence due to CMDs 1,925 (19%) had a recurrence, 90% of recurrences occurred within 3 years. The RD of sickness absence due to CMDs was 84.5 employees per 1,000 person-years (95% CI=80.7-88.3). The RD of sickness absence due to CMDs was similar in women and in men. In men, depressive symptoms were related to higher recurrence of sickness absence due to CMDs than distress symptoms and adjustment disorders. In women, no difference by diagnostic category was found.
Conclusions: Employees with a previous episode of sickness absence with CMDs are at increased risk of recurrent sickness absence with CMDs. Relapse prevention consultations are recommended for a period of 3 years after return to work.