Public Release: 

Adverse trends in mental health linked to disability assessments

University of Liverpool

A National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded study by public health experts from the University of Liverpool has found that the programme of reassessing people on disability benefits may have had an adverse effect on the mental health of claimants.

In England between 2010 and 2013, just over one million recipients of the main out-of-work disability benefit had their eligibility reassessed using a new functional checklist--the Work Capability Assessment.

Doctors and disability rights organisations have raised concerns that this has had an adverse effect on the mental health of claimants, but there have been no population level studies exploring the health effects of this.

Reported mental health problems

In a study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health researchers from the University's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society investigated whether variation in the trend in reassessments in each of 149 local authorities in England was associated with differences in local trends in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing rates.

The study found that each additional 10,000 people reassessed in each area was associated with an additional six suicides, 2700 cases of reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of an additional 7020 antidepressant items.

The reassessment process was associated with the greatest increases in these adverse mental health outcomes in the most deprived areas of the country, widening health inequalities.

Adverse consequences

Benjamin Barr, from the University's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, said: "The programme of reassessing people on disability benefits using the Work Capability Assessment was independently associated with an increase in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing.

"This policy may have had serious adverse consequences for mental health in England, which could outweigh any benefits that arise from moving people off disability benefits."

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Embargoed link to research: http://press.psprings.co.uk/jech/november/jech206209.pdf

Public link once embargo lifts: http://jech.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/jech-2015-206209

Notes to editors:

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research.

Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research.

The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website

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