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Strategies to keep working among workers with common mental disorders – a grounded theory study

Journal article
Authors Louise Danielsson
Mikael Elf
Gunnel Hensing
Published in Disability and Rehabilitation
Volume 41
Issue 7
Pages 786-795
ISSN 0963-8288
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine
Pages 786-795
Language en
Keywords anxiety, Depression, qualitative research, work functioning
Subject categories Community medicine


© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group Purpose: Most people with common mental disorders (CMDs) are employed and working, but few studies have looked into how they manage their jobs while ill. This study explores workers’ experiences of strategies to keep working while suffering from CMDs. Methods: In this grounded theory study, we interviewed 19 women and eight men with depression or anxiety disorders. They were 19–65 years old and had different occupations. Constant comparison method was used in the analysis. Results: We identified a core pattern in the depressed and anxious workers’ attempts to sustain their capacities, defined as Managing work space. The core pattern comprised four categories describing different cognitive, behavioral, and social strategies. The categories relate to a process of sustainability. Two categories reflected more reactive and temporary strategies, occurring mainly in the onset phase of illness: Forcing the work role and Warding off work strain. The third category, Recuperating from work, reflected strategies during both onset and recovery phases. The fourth category, Reflexive adaptation, was present mainly in the recovery phase and involved reflective strategies interpreted as more sustainable over time. Conclusions: The results can deepen understanding among rehabilitation professionals about different work-related strategies in depressed and anxious workers. Increased awareness of the meaning and characteristics of strategies can inform a person-oriented approach in rehabilitation. The knowledge can be used in clinical encounters to reflect together with the patient, exploring present options and introducing modifications to their particular work and life context.Implications for rehabilitationSelf-managed work functioning in common mental disorders involves diverse strategies.Strategies interpreted as sustainable over time, seem to be reflective in the sense that the worker consciously applies and adapts the strategies. However, at the onset of illness, such reflection is difficult to develop as the worker might not want to realize their reduced functioning.Rehabilitation professionals’ awareness of different strategies can facilitate a person-centered approach and understanding of the vocational rehabilitation process.

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