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Work-directed rehabilitation or physical activity to support work ability and mental health in common mental disorders: a pilot randomized controlled trial

Journal article
Authors Louise Danielsson
Margda Waern
Gunnel Hensing
Kristina Holmgren
Published in Clinical Rehabilitation
Volume 34
Issue 2
Pages 170-181
ISSN 0269-2155
Publication year 2020
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Health and Rehabilitation
Institute of Medicine, School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry
Pages 170-181
Language en
Keywords Depression, anxiety, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, vocational, rehabilitation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, sick leave, major depression, global, burden, intervention, exercise, return, disease, anxiety, women
Subject categories Neurosciences


Objective: To evaluate feasibility and potential effectiveness of work-directed rehabilitation in people with common mental disorders. Design: Pilot randomized controlled trial. Setting: Primary healthcare, Sweden. Subjects: Working adults (n = 42) of mean age 46.2 ± 11.1 years with depression or anxiety disorder. Interventions: Eight weeks of work-directed rehabilitation (n = 21) or physical activity (n = 21). Work-directed rehabilitation included sessions with a physiotherapist and/or an occupational therapist, to develop strategies to cope better at work. Physical activity included a planning session and access to a local gym. Main measures: Feasibility: attendance, discontinuation and adverse events. Measurements were the Work Ability Index, the Global Assessment of Functioning, the Montgomery–Asberg Depression Rating Scale, the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the World Health Organization—Five Well-Being Index. Results: Attendance to rehabilitation sessions was 88% (n = 147/167) and discontinuation rate was 14% (n = 3/21). No serious adverse events were reported. Within both groups, there was a significant improvement in Work Ability Index score (mean change: 3.6 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.45, 6.7) in work-directed rehabilitation and 3.9 (95% CI: 0.9, 7.0) in physical activity) with no significant difference between groups. For the other outcomes, significant improvements were found within but not between groups. Per-protocol analysis showed a trend toward the antidepressant effect of work-directed rehabilitation compared to physical activity (mean difference in depression score −3.1 (95% CI: −6.8, 0.4), P = 0.075). Conclusion: Work-directed rehabilitation was feasible to persons with common mental disorders and improved their work ability and mental health. Comparable improvements were seen in the physical activity group. Suggested modifications for a larger trial include adding a treatment-as-usual control.

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