Attribution of mental illness to work: a Delphi study

Source: M. G. P. Wong, C. J. M. Poole and R. Agius, Occupational Medicine, Advance Access, First published online: May 15, 2015
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From the abstract:
Background: Clinicians may be asked whether mental ill-health has been caused by work but there is no guidance on how this judgement should be made.

Aims: To seek a consensus on the factors that should be considered and how they should be sought when attributing mental ill-health to work.

Methods: A three-round Delphi study involving expert academics, occupational physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists. We deemed consensus had been reached when 66% or more of the experts were in agreement.

Results: Of 54 invited experts, 35 (65%) took part in the first round, 30 of these 35 (86%) in the second and 29 of these 30 (97%) in the final round. Consensus was reached for 11 workplace stressors: high job strain; effort–reward imbalance; major trauma; interpersonal conflict; inadequate support; role ambiguity; person–job mismatch; organizational injustice; organizational culture; work scheduling and threats to job security. Seven personal factors were identified as being important: previous mental illness; personality traits of neuroticism; adverse life events or social circumstances; resilience; a family history of mental illness and secondary gain. The worker, manager and co-workers were thought to be the most useful sources of workplace information. Consensus was reached for a definition of occupational mental illness but not for a threshold of work-relatedness.

Conclusions: The attribution of mental ill-health to work is complex and involves the consideration of both workplace stressors and personal factors of vulnerability. Clinical consultation with an occupational physician who is familiar with the workplace is central to the process.