Project investigating the relationships between mental health problems and employment outcomes receives funding from The Health Foundation

Published: 19 April 2018

The Health Foundation has selected six research projects to take part in its new £2 million Social and Economic Value of Health programme.

19th April 2018

The Health Foundation has selected six research projects to take part in its new £2 million Social and Economic Value of Health programme, designed to develop understanding of how people’s health makes a vital contribution to society and the economy.

This new programme, part of the Health Foundation’s Healthy Lives strategy, aims to develop an understanding of the social and economic case for investing in strategies that maintain, protect and create health. 

MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit has been selected as one of the six successful recipients. Our project, which is titled Causal effects of alcohol and mental health problems on employment outcomes: Harnessing UK Biobank and linked administrative data, aims to improve understanding of the relationships between mental health problems and employment outcomes in order to establish the value of strategies to maintain good mental health for broader society. The project will be conducted in partnership with colleagues from the University of Bristol. 

Mental health issues such as depression and alcohol-related problems are a major burden of illness in the UK. In contrast to many physical health problems, mental health conditions particularly affect the working age population, which in turn impacts on the UK economy.

Mental health disorders are now the most common reason for receiving sickness and disability benefits, and are linked to worklessness and adverse social outcomes. However, the causal relationship between them remains unclear.

Studying the relationship between mental health and social outcomes is challenging because the causal effects are likely to operate in both directions; for example, employment may cause good mental health, and good mental health may make worklessness less likely.

This project will use UK Biobank data to estimate the causal effects of alcohol consumption and depression on social outcomes, thereby identifying the long-term benefit of action to avoid the erosion of mental health and wellbeing. Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study data will be confidentially linked to Scottish health datasets to understand the loss of economic output as a consequence of the erosion of mental health status after the development of depression or alcohol-related problems.

Two methodological approaches will be used: Mendelian randomisation (which uses genetic variants to test the causal effect of a risk factor on a health-related outcome), and regression analyses of linked health and welfare datasets.

Qualitative methods will also be used to analyse policy discourse, key informant perspectives, and the lived experiences of people with mental health and alcohol problems.

This work aims to provide an understanding of the potential societal benefits of maintaining and improving mental health, and preventing and treating alcohol problems through investment in treatment and recovery services. Understanding the complex relationship and factors that impact individuals’ ability to sustain employment when facing mental health issues will enable government, employers and individuals better to plan policies and interventions, and to self-manage conditions.

Click here to read the original press release. 

First published: 19 April 2018

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