The Medical Benefits of Work and the Health “Cost” of Unemployment
James B. Talmage
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Abstract

In 2011, the American Medical Association published the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Work Ability and Return to Work (AMA's Return to Work), Second Edition, which began with a review of consensus statements attesting that, in general, work is good for a person's health and well-being. Since publication of AMA's Return to Work, the Australian Royal College of Physicians has issued a consensus statement about the negative health consequences of becoming unemployed and the health benefits of returning to work. Key points include: for most individuals, working improves general health and well-being and reduces psychological distress; even musculoskeletal and mental health conditions attributed to work can benefit from activity-based rehabilitation and an early return to suitable work; long-term work absence is harmful to physical and mental health and well-being; the negative effects of remaining away from work include stress on the worker's families, including children. Of the potential consequences of unemployment in mid-adult life, the worst is premature death. In causation research, unlike medical treatment studies, individuals cannot be randomly assigned to a group that is forced to remain at work and a group that is forced to be unemployed. Even so, causation research has found strong evidence for a protective effect of employment on depression and general mental health. In performing evaluations, physicians must accurately assess work ability and recognize the healthy benefits of work.

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