Employment linked to better quality of life in MS

11 September, 2017

MS is often diagnosed in younger adulthood, when a person’s career is starting to develop and take off. Some people with MS have reported leaving the workforce or reducing their paid working hours because of their disease. In certain situations this can be a good thing, potentially reducing stress, fatigue and anxiety in their lives. However, in other instances, a lack of employment can lead to a decreased quality of life, less social interaction, depression and financial pressures.

Previous research has demonstrated that workplaces that offer emotion based support and coping strategies had the highest retention of employees with MS. While fatigue is the most common symptom cited as a reason for leaving employment, research has also shown that people who perceive their workplace as being un-supportive are more likely to leave employment.

Australian researcher Dr Diana Dorstyn has, together with her colleagues  reviewed evidence for the complex relationships between psychological wellbeing and employment in people with MS.

The researchers reviewed 33 scientific studies conducted between 1981 and 2016 that looked at employment in people with MS. These studies were conducted in a number of countries across North America, Europe, and Australia. The researchers wanted to understand how employment affects mental health in people with MS, and how individual psychological factors affect employment, to help determine why some people with MS leave the workforce.

By systemically reviewing the data from these articles, they discovered that people with MS that were employed reported having fewer difficulties with day to day tasks such as walking, and had more life satisfaction than those who were unemployed. The studies on depression produced mixed results, but indicated that depressive symptoms were lower in people with MS that were employed. The studies looking at anxiety revealed inconclusive results for the relationship between anxiety and employment in people with MS.

This review provided evidence for a relationship between employment and psychological factors in people with MS. It highlights the need for health care providers to assess and manage both physical and psychological issues in people with MS so that they can maintain employment, but also highlights the effect unemployment may have on an individual’s psychological wellbeing.

Previous Australian research, through the Australian MS Longitudinal Study, has encouragingly shown that employment levels for people with MS in Australia have greatly improved over the last few years. Furthermore, most people (95%) that requested changes to their role were granted them, which is encouraging for anyone thinking of requesting changes so that they can remain with their current employer.

In a project previously supported by MS Research Australia, Dr Dorstyn developed and piloted an email-based resource for working aged adults with MS. This trial provided online access to training on key employment related issues to help support people with MS in job seeking and job retention skills. The results from this pilot indicated that this practical information can help improve job prospects for people with MS and Dr Dorstyn is now trialling the program in a larger group of individuals.

This review of the research into employment and psychological factors has highlighted that many good quality investigations are being conducted into MS and employment around the world. However, more long-term research needs to be performed to determine the best ways to manage MS symptoms in the workplace to ensure the best employment outcomes for all people with MS. This type of research will also help health professionals to develop targeted interventions and support services to assist people with MS to prepare and plan for the changes that may be required to their employment due to the unpredictability of their disease.

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