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"Comfortable with mum at home" – related persons demands make it difficult for women on sick leave to return to work

2024-03-18 

The ability of women on sick leave to return to work can be hindered by related persons who feel it is appropriate for the woman to stay at home and take care of the household and children. This is according to a new dissertation from the University of Gävle, where researcher Åsa Hedlund investigated the factors that are important for women with mental illness to return to work.

Åsa Hedlund.

Åsa Hedlund. Foto: Anna Sällberg

The women included in the studies have been on sick leave due to mental illness, such as fatigue, depression or anxiety, and they have been on long-term sick leave in the sense of 2-24 months. A new finding in the thesis is that private life is of great importance to the ability of women on sick leave to return to work.

– Not everyone in her private life wants the woman to return to work. For some, such as the partner, it may be very convenient for the mother to stay at home on sick leave and take care of the children, while leaving more time for domestic tasks such as washing, cooking and cleaning. It may also be that you have children with special needs and it is appropriate for the children's school that the woman is at home. 'This is sometimes a bigger problem than the workplace itself,' says Åsa Hedlund, a university lecturer who recently completed her PhD in healthcare science.

Several women had an npf diagnosis

She is a registered nurse and district nurse and as a doctoral student she chose to focus on the problems that women experience when they want to start working again after sick leave.

– These are women who work in schools, health and social care and these areas are not known for their good working environment. Then there were more women than I thought who had received an NPF (neuropsychiatric disability) diagnosis in adulthood, such as ADHD or autism. It has also been important for them to get that diagnosis because it has then been possible to get help based on that diagnosis," says Åsa Hedlund.

The thesis is based on a survey in which nearly 300 women on long-term sick leave were asked a series of questions about their thoughts on returning to work, as well as more in-depth interviews with 17 women and 16 managers. The results show that it is important for women to perceive their work as health-promoting.

– The best thing is if the job can help improve health, which may sound like a utopia. If it is a nurse, for example, it could be about helping patients in a way that feels dignified. For a person who is sensitive to sound, it could be about being able to sit in their own room.

Need support from home

But perhaps the most difficult part to address in order for the woman on sick leave to return to work is the situation at home.

– Support and understanding is needed from home. There is no developed method here and more research is needed on how to involve and inform relatives. It is a heavy burden for the woman who is affected to explain why she can't do this and that. A more comprehensive approach is needed to make life work for some people.

The women who returned to work after sick leave often changed jobs, as it was not possible to adapt the work tasks sufficiently to make it work in the previous workplace.

– Managers have struggled with the fact that they have not been able to make full use of these people because they have been too frail. They have felt tied down and some have lacked knowledge of the problem itself to know how to handle it legally and in a rehabilitation process," says Åsa Hedlund.

What has surprised you particularly in the results?

– That there are people, forces around these people who don't actually want them to go back to work. There are women who want to start working, but at the same time feel that their relatives think it is more comfortable for them to stay at home. The thoughts and opinions of relatives have an impact and the return to work becomes more complex if people work against you," says Åsa Hedlund.

Text: Anna Sällberg

Read the dissertation: Return to work after long-term sick leave for common mental disorders - Women's beliefs, intentions, health and psychological well-being

Contact

Åsa Hedlund

Phone: 026-64 50 22 or 072-856 02 74

E-mail: asa.hedlund@hig.se

Published by: Anna Sällberg Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2024-03-18
Högskolan i Gävle
www.hig.se
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)