Given the importance of unemployment in health inequalities, re-employment of unemployed persons into paid employment may be a powerful intervention to increase population health. It is suggested that integrated programmes of vocational reintegration with health promotion may improve the likelihood of entering paid employment of long-term unemployed persons with severe mental health problems. However, the current evidence regarding whether entering paid employment of this population will contribute to a reduction in health problems remains unambiguous. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to assess the effects of re-employment programmes with regard to health and quality of life. Three electronic databases were searched (up to March 2015). Two reviewers independently selected articles and assessed the risk of bias on prespecified criteria. Measures of effects were pooled and random effect meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials was conducted, where possible. Sixteen studies were included. Nine studies described functioning as an outcome measure. Five studies with six comparisons provided enough information to calculate a pooled effect size of −0.01 (95% CI −0.13 to 0.11). Fifteen studies presented mental health as an outcome measure of which six with comparable psychiatric symptoms resulted in a pooled effect size of 0.20 (95% CI −0.23 to 0.62). Thirteen studies described quality of life as an outcome measure. Seven of these studies, describing eight comparisons, provided enough information to calculate a pooled effect size of 0.28 (95% CI 0.04 to 0.52). Re-employment programmes have a modest positive effect on the quality of life. No evidence was found for any effect of these re-employment programmes on functioning and mental health.
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