Skip to content

Study: Mental health issues account for over half of Finland's disability pensions

The study found that socio-economic factors such as employment rates and income led to significant regional differences in retirement due to mental health issues.

Mental illness was the most common reason for issuing disability pensions in Finland. Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle

A new study carried out at Tampere University has found that 53 percent of all disability pensions in Finland are granted due to mental health disorders. A disability pension is compensation for loss of income provided by the state to those who are unable to work because of an illness, handicap or injury.

Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder account for two-thirds of disability pensions granted on mental health grounds, according to the study. Psychotic disorders, which include severe illnesses such as schizophrenia, are the second most common cause of retirement due to mental health reasons.

They make up around one-sixth of mental disorder-based disability pensions. Last year, around 102,000 people in Finland received disability pensions due to mental or behavioural disorders.

Regional differences in disability pensions

The study (siirryt toiseen palveluun) also examined the role of various factors which contributed to regional differences in mental disorder-based disability pensions between 2010 and 2015.

People were most likely to retire due to a mood disorder in Pirkanmaa, North Savo, Kainuu and Northern and Southern Ostrobothnia, while psychotic disorders were the most common reason for granting disability pensions in Päijät-Häme, North Karelia and North Ostrobothnia.

The study also looked at socio-economic disparities between regions, including employment rates and differences in income. Mental disorder-based disability pensions were relatively less common in hospital districts such as Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) and Vaasa, where employment rates are high and poverty relatively low.

However, the Pirkanmaa region, including Tampere, had a significant number of mental disorder-based disability pensions despite high levels of employment and low poverty rates.

"There are no clear socio-economic differences in the Pirkanmaa region, when compared to other hospital districts, which would explain the [number of] disability pensions due to mental health reasons," said Tino Karolaakso, a doctoral researcher and psychologist who contributed to the study.

Story continues after photo

Availability of mental health services plays key role

The study did find, however, that Pirkanmaa was one of the regions with the lowest number of outpatient visits in relation to the population. Lower levels of outpatient visits compared to the national average were associated with a higher risk of retirement at the regional level.

Outpatient care includes, for example, pre-arranged visits with a nurse, doctor or psychologist at a psychiatric outpatient clinic. The provision or lack of such mental health services could subsequently account for regional differences in disability-based retirement.

According to Karolaakso, these differences could be mitigated if officials developed a system to identify the specific needs of each region in terms of mental health services.

"Important areas of development could also include promoting employment opportunities in the region and taking the needs of young people into account," he said.

While there has been no significant increase in the number of disability pensions granted to those aged 25–64 since 2000, Karolaakso emphasised that pensions granted on the basis of mental disorders among people aged 16–24 risen strongly since the turn of the millennium.