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Sick leave spike reveals increased mental health problems

Kela figures show that sick leave days declined for a decade, until they started increasing again last year.

Nainen takaapäin toimistossa.
People are taking sick leave from work citing mental health problems more often than in the past decade. Image: AOP

New research conducted by national pension Kela shows that Finland's steady ten-year decline in the amount of sick leave taken by employees has ended.

The number of sick leave periods shot up by some 7,000 instances in 2017, a spike of 2.5 percent.

Kela research team chief Jenni Blomgren says that economic shifts have been noted to affect the number of sick days per year.

"When the economy is booming, even people with restricted ability to work have a better chance of being employed," she says. "Then again people may also feel more comfortable taking days off for poor health if the threat of unemployment is minimal."

Kela statistics also show that the rise in sick days is in large part due to a notable 16 percent increase in mental health complaints. Blomgren says that both men and women took out more sick leave last year, in all age groups.

Unexpected anomaly

Tuula Kock, specialist doctor at the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities says she finds the spike in sick days both surprising and worrying.

"The coming years will tell us if this is a long-term trend or more of a one-off anomaly," she says.

Kock says that the situation must be closely monitored and responded to. A longer-term phenomenon would be a serious signal that occupational health care is unprepared for early detection.

"Or it might be because we don't have mental health services that would help us detect and prevent problems that lead to disabilies."

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