Austria should do more to help people with frequent mental health problems


02/09/2015 - Austria needs to do more to help people with mental health problems find a job or stay in the workplace, according to a new OECD report. A more comprehensive approach would help employees and firms alike: mental health issues are estimated to cost the Austrian economy around 3.6% of GDP every year in lost productivity, health care and out-of-work benefits.


Mental Health and Work: Austria says that about one in three people on sickness, unemployment or disability benefits report a mental health problem. The unemployment rate of people with mental illness is three times the overall rate and it is particularly high among older workers. The link between age, health and work suggests that in Austria age in combination with mental health problems is viewed as an acceptable reason for leaving the labour market prematurely. Accordingly, in the past two decades mental illness has emerged as the main factor in disability benefit claims.


Austria has a strong labour market but people with mental health problems have a high incidence of absence as well as significant performance problems. Their situation can be improved by health-insurance supported sickness management at the workplace and the introduction of a partial return-to-work option. Existing occupational health and fit2work services can play a bigger role in helping workers struggling with mental health problems stay in or return to their job.


The recent disability benefit reform is a major step in the right direction, as it aims to prevent premature labour market exit and helps people to stay in or return to the labour market. Nevertheless, its success will hinge on the extent to which people now entitled to either rehabilitation or retraining benefit will be supported by the responsible authorities. Without due support, the new benefits could easily become a dead end.


Health spending in Austria is high and health services in general are easily accessible. However, according to the report there is a lack of attention to mental health needs and insufficient funding for psychotherapy. Treating people with the aim of helping them get back to work is not widespread and there is no link between health and employment services. Other countries are experimenting successfully in this field.


Change is also needed in other areas, notably the education system. High overall education spending does not sufficiently help youth with behavioural and mental health problems. More professional support is required both in and around schools. Youth and apprentice coaching should be expanded to reach the intended target groups and tackle drop out from upper-secondary education or vocational schools.


The OECD recommends that the Austrian authorities:


  • Implement the 2013 disability benefit reform rigorously for workers of all ages and extend the reform to the entire labour force.
  • Improve the resources and competences of the public employment service so that it can attend to clients who suffer from poor mental health.
  • Make sickness benefit payments part of an active system to foster a quick or, where necessary, partial return to work.
  • Further strengthen fit2work as an active support service that is easily accessible for workers as well as employers.
  • Shift health resources to increase mental health care to adequate levels, especially in outpatient and primary care, child psychiatry, and rural areas.
  • Reorient education resources to increase qualified professional support for teachers and students.


For further information, journalists should contact Christopher Prinz (tel. +33 1 4524 9483 / or Niklas Baer (tel. +41 79 778 2884 /, the authors of the new OECD report, or Antonie Kerwien from OECD's media office in Berlin (tel. +49 30 2888 3541 / 


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