Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 160–170 | Cite as

Association Between Illness Perceptions and Return-to-Work Expectations in Workers with Common Mental Health Symptoms

  • Camilla Løvvik
  • Simon Øverland
  • Mari Hysing
  • Elizabeth Broadbent
  • Silje E. Reme


Purpose Mental health symptoms (MHSs) may affect people’s work capacity and lead to sickness absence and disability. Expectations and perceptions of illness have been shown to influence return to work (RTW) across health conditions, but we know little about illness perceptions and RTW-expectations in MHSs. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between illness perceptions and RTW-expectations in a group struggling with work participation due to MHSs. Methods Cross-sectional associations between illness perceptions and return to work expectations at baseline were analyzed for 1,193 participants who reported that MHSs affected their work participation. The study was part of a randomized controlled trial evaluating the effect of job focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) combined with supported employment (IPS). Participants were from a working age population with diverse job status. Results There was a strong and salient relationship between illness perceptions and RTW-expectations. When adjusting for demographic and clinical variables, the components consequences, personal control, identity and illness concern remained significantly associated with uncertain and negative RTW-expectations. Less illness understanding remained significantly associated with uncertain RTW-expectations, while timeline and emotional representations remained significantly associated with negative RTW-expectations. In the fully adjusted model only the consequences component (believing that illness has more severe consequences) remained significantly associated with RTW-expectations. Openly asked, participants reported work, personal relationships and stress as main causes of their illness. Conclusions In people with MHSs who struggle with work participation, perceptions and beliefs about their problems are strongly associated with their expectations to return to work.


Illness perceptions Return to work (RTW) RTW-expectations Common mental health symptoms (MHSs) Anxiety Depression 



This research was funded by the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration. Ingrid Blø Olsen helped to develop a framework for categorization of the causal item on the Brief Illness Perception Questionnaire and with the categorization of responses to this item.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Camilla Løvvik
    • 1
    • 2
  • Simon Øverland
    • 2
    • 3
  • Mari Hysing
    • 1
  • Elizabeth Broadbent
    • 4
  • Silje E. Reme
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Uni Health, Uni ResearchBergenNorway
  2. 2.Department of Health Promotion and DevelopmentUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  3. 3.Division of Mental HealthNorwegian Institute of Public HealthOsloNorway
  4. 4.Department of Psychological MedicineUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  5. 5.Harvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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