Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

Sweden: Tackling mental health problems is critical to boosting job prospects of young Swedes


05/03/2013 - Sweden should make greater efforts to prevent and address mental health problems among people under the age of 30, in order to boost their job prospects and reduce government spending on health care and out-of-work benefits, according to a new OECD report.


Mental Health and Work: Sweden  says that mental health issues cost the Swedish economy nearly EUR 8 billion per year, equivalent to 2.8% of GDP, through lost productivity, healthcare and social spending. Mental ill-health accounts for 60% of all new disability claims and has become the leading cause of labour market exclusion among people of working-age in Sweden.


Young people are worst affected, with as many as one in four 16-18 year olds suffering from a mental disorder.  Poor mental health is significantly more common among youth who are neither in work, nor in education or training (NEETs). Mental ill-health exacerbates the difficult labour-market situation of school leavers and young workers and increases the risk of exclusion.


Disability benefit claims among youth for mental ill-health have almost quadrupled since the early 2000s, by far the largest increase across OECD countries for which data is available. With youth unemployment over 20% in Sweden, working with vulnerable young people is critical in order to break the vicious cycle of weak labour-market attachment and poor mental health, says the OECD.


Youth clinics and employment services for vulnerable youth through Navigator Centres show promise. But the report concludes that current action is inadequate despite the magnitude of the mental health burden.  School health services are under-resourced and waiting times for school psychologists too long, often exceeding two months. 


Following the successful 2006 reforms to cut the high number of people on sickness benefits, the challenge is to help claimants with mental health problems back to work, says the OECD.

Awareness of mental health problems and tools to help employers and employees to deal with psychological problems at work also need to be strengthened. The report warns that there is a risk that the large number of workers who returned to their previous jobs (three quarters) after being on long-term sickness may re-enter the sickness benefit system if employers fails to integrate them at work appropriately. This is particularly the case of persons with mental health problems, for whom problems at work are often the root cause of their illness.

The OECD recommends that the authorities:

  • Increase resources available for school health services to tackle mental health problems. 
  • Provide adequate support to early school leavers and NEETs with mental health problems.
  • Reform the disability benefit scheme for those aged 19-29 to put more focus on measures to help them back to work.
  • Boost support for employers, in particular SMEs, to retain workers with mental health problems.
  • Ensure adequate employment and health services to sickness benefit recipients with mental health problems.
  • Develop ways to integrate health and employment services.


For further information, journalists should contact Shruti Singh, the author of the new OECD report (tel. +331 4512 1948) or Spencer Wilson from OECD’s Media division (tel. +331 4524 8118). For a copy of the report, journalists should contact  


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