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Open Access Research article

Gender and age differences in the recurrence of sickness absence due to common mental disorders: a longitudinal study

Petra C Koopmans12*, Corné AM Roelen23, Ute Bültmann2, Rob Hoedeman24, Jac JL van der Klink2 and Johan W Groothoff2

Author Affiliations

1 ArboNed Occupational Health Services, Statistics, Groningen, The Netherlands

2 Department of Health Sciences, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

3 ArboNed Occupational Health Services, Corporate Accounts, Zwolle, The Netherlands

4 ArboNed Occupational Health Services, Corporate Accounts, Utrecht, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:426  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-426

Published: 20 July 2010



Common mental disorders (CMDs) are an important cause of sickness absence and long-term work disability. Although CMDs are known to have high recurrence rates, little is known about the recurrence of sickness absence due to CMDs. The aim of this study was to investigate the recurrence of sickness absence due to CMDs, including distress, adjustment disorders, depressive disorders and anxiety disorders, according to age, in male and female employees in the Netherlands.


Data on sickness absence episodes due to CMDs were obtained for 137,172 employees working in the Dutch Post and Telecommunication companies between 2001 and 2007. The incidence density (ID) and recurrence density (RD) of sickness absence due to CMDs was calculated per 1000 person-years in men and women in the age-groups of < 35 years, 35-44 years, 45-54 years, and ≥ 55 years.


The ID of one episode of CMDs sickness absence was 25.0 per 1000 person-years, and the RD was 76.7 per 1000 person-years. Sickness absence due to psychiatric disorders (anxiety and depression) does not have a higher recurrence density of sickness absence due to any CMDs as compared to stress-related disorders (distress and adjustment disorders): 81.6 versus 76.0 per 1000 person-years. The ID of sickness absence due to CMDs was higher in women than in men, but the RD was similar. Recurrences were more frequent in women < 35 years and in women between 35 and 44 years of age. We observed no differences between age groups in men. Recurrences among employees with recurrent episodes occurred within 3 years in 90% of cases and the median time-to-onset of recurrence was 11 (10-13) months in men and 10 (9-12) months in women.


Employees who have been absent from work due to CMDs are at increased risk of recurrent sickness absence due to CMDs and should be monitored after they return to work. The RD was similar in men and in women. In women < 45 years the RD was higher than in women ≥ 45 years. In men no age differences were observed.