Background: We investigated one-year trajectories of symptom recovery, work functioning and the return to work percentage (RTW%) among patients with common mental disorders (CMDs).
Methods: Data were used from a cluster-randomised controlled trial evaluating a problem-solving intervention for CMD patients (N = 158) who had returned to work. Information on anxiety and depressive symptoms, work functioning and RTW% was collected at baseline and 3, 6 and 12 months follow-up. Latent class growth analyses were used to identify trajectories for the four outcomes and investigate how these trajectories clustered in higher order latent classes. Additionally, we investigated the relation between patient characteristics and class membership.
Results: We identified four trajectories for all four outcomes and derived three higher order latent classes: slow recovery (42% [66/158]) (high anxiety and depressive symptoms, moderate to low work functioning and fast RTW); fast recovery (25% [40/158]) (low anxiety and depressive symptoms, high work functioning and fast RTW); and gradual recovery (33% [52/158] (decreasing anxiety and depressive symptoms, increasing or low work functioning and fast RTW). Participants with a higher work engagement and readiness to stay at work were more likely to belong to the fast recovery class.
Limitations: Due to the relatively small sample size, some trajectories consisted of few participants. Symptom severity was self-reported.
Conclusions: Many CMD patients experience high levels of mental health symptoms and work functioning problems during the year post RTW. Creating realistic recovery expectations (for both patients and their environments) could be important for successful and sustainable recovery and work participation.