Long-term sickness from burnout and depression up 43 per cent in 5 years

The number of people in Belgium unable to work for an extended period ​ due to burnout or depression has increased by 43 per cent in five years, De Tijd reports on Thursday, based on data from the National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance (Riziv). By the end of 2022, 125,700 people had been off work for at least a year because of one of the two conditions.

Riziv provided specific statistics in response to demand among policymakers and employers for more insight into the issue of burnout and depression. The numbers are an underestimate because statutory civil servants, including tenured teachers, are not included.

Long-term sickness has been rising in Belgium almost continuously since the early 2000s. In 2022, there were more than half a million (502,371) people off work for an extended period. That number grew by 24 per cent between 2017 and 2022, but the 43 per cent increase in burnout or depression is especially notable.

Women are particularly at risk, representing 69 per cent of the affected workers. There has also been a significant increase among the self-employed, of 62 per cent.

"People need clear feedback, but often their bosses give them no feedback or in a vague way"

Belgium spent more than 1.8 billion euros in 2021 on benefits for people who had been out of work for more than a year because of these health problems, an increase of almost 60 per cent compared to five years earlier.

Stijn Baert, professor of labour economics at Ghent University, said Belgians are generally not used to taking a step back or trying something different. “Belgians stay in a job for a long time even if they don't like doing it, and then you naturally burn out,” he said.

He also pointed to a "poor feedback culture". “People need clear feedback, but often their bosses give them no feedback or in a vague way.”

Various action plans are being rolled out to get people back into work after long-term illness. A federal campaign aims to prevent and detect stress at work, with a specific initiative to raise awareness about mental well-being among self-employed people.



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