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Prevention of long-term sickness absence and major depression in high-risk employees: a randomised controlled trial
  1. Monique A S Lexis1,
  2. Nicole W H Jansen1,
  3. Marcus J H Huibers2,
  4. Ludovic G P M van Amelsvoort1,
  5. Ate Berkouwer3,
  6. Gladys Tjin A Ton3,
  7. Piet A van den Brandt1,
  8. IJmert Kant1
  1. 1CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, Department of Epidemiology, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Faculty of Psychology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  3. 3Occupational Health Services ‘Beter’ (ABN AMRO Arbo Services BV), Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Miss Monique Lexis, CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, Maastricht University, Department of Epidemiology, PO Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands; monique.lexis{at}


Objectives To examine the efficacy of early intervention on the prevention of long-term sickness absence and major depression among employees at high risk of future sickness absence and with mild to severe depressive complaints.

Methods Randomised controlled trial conducted among employees working in an office environment. 139 employees were identified both at high risk of future sickness absence and with mild to severe depressive complaints through screening. Subsequently, they were randomly assigned to the intervention group (n=69) or the control group (n=70). Objective sickness absence was analysed at 12 and 18 months of follow-up. Depressive complaints were assessed by the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) at baseline, and at 6 and 12 months of follow-up.

Results Intention-to-treat analyses showed a significant difference in total sickness absence duration between the intervention (27.5 calendar days (SD 44.7)) and control group (50.8 days (SD 75.8)) over 12 months of follow-up, a reduction of 46% (p=0.017). The intervention group showed a non-significantly lower proportion of long-term sickness absence spells compared with the control group (p=0.127). Statistically significant and clinically relevant differences in depressive complaints were found after both 6 months (p=0.001) and 12 months (p=0.005) of follow-up, in favour of the intervention group. Relative risk reductions (RRR) were 19.2% and 19.8% respectively. Sickness absence data were available for all participants over 18 months of follow-up. Questionnaire data were available for 99 (at 6 months) and 90 participants (at 12 months). No adverse events or side effects occurred.

Conclusions Early intervention in employees with mild to severe depressive complaints and high risk of future long-term sickness absence proved to be effective in preventing/reducing both sickness absence and depressive complaints.

  • Randomised controlled trial
  • prevention
  • sickness absence
  • epidemiology
  • mental health
  • intervention studies
  • preventive medicine
  • sickness absence

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  • Funding This study was financially supported by The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (Zon Mw), grant no 62200024, by CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, Maastricht, The Netherlands and by the Occupational Health Services ‘Beter’ (ABN AMRO Arbo Services), Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Medical and Ethical Committee of Maastricht University (MEC 06-3-018), Maastricht, The Netherlands.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.