Norway should reform its welfare system to help people with mental health issues stay in work


05/03/2013 - Norway should overhaul its approach to mental health issues in the workplace in order to help more people find a job or stay in work, and cut high and rising public spending, according to a new OECD report.


Mental Health and Work: Norway says that one in five Norwegian workers and one in two unemployed people have a mental disorder. Spending on sickness and disability benefits is the highest in the OECD at USD 18 billion per year. This is equivalent to nearly 6% of Norway's annual GDP or 40% of the government revenues from its oil and gas exports.


Mental disorders account for a steadily increasing share of this spending. Productivity is also affected, with around four in five workers with a mental health problem underperforming for health reasons on any given day.


While unemployment is low in Norway, sickness and disability benefit caseloads are the highest in the OECD. The poor labour market outcomes for Norwegians with mental ill-health are striking given the country’s high spending on education, health care and vocational rehabilitation. The generous welfare system is partly to blame because it is a trap for vulnerable people, says the report.


Norway should strengthen the obligations and financial incentives for everyone involved: employers, employees, unions, municipalities as well as school and mental health care services. Employers pay very little towards sick leave. Sick-listed employees receive 100% of their wage for a full year and so have little incentive to go back to work quickly. But long sick leave tends to worsen mental health and increase work-related fears, making an eventual return to work more difficult and thus paving the way into permanent inactivity, says the OECD.


Disability benefit claims are seldom rejected and, once awarded, rarely reassessed. This is not adequate for claims due to a mental illness. Doctors and psychiatric services do not feel responsible for work-related mental health issues, and co-operation between psychiatric services and the Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) offices is weak.


The OECD recommends that the Norwegian authorities:


  • Take action to avoid sickness absences of workers with mental health problems and solve the problems in the workplace, while strengthening financial responsibilities of all actors.
  • Expand the Employer Support Centres of NAV to fill the wide gap between general prevention and rehabilitation by introducing and expanding early intervention measures at the workplace.
  • Integrate mental health care and employment services by implementing employment specialists in District Psychiatric Centres as well as more psychiatrists in the NAV offices.
  • Minimise school dropout and improve the transition to employment by defining clear responsibilities for on-going individual follow-up for students at risk.


For further information, journalists should contact Niklas Baer, the author of the new OECD report (tel. + 41 798 750 226), 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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