Causal effects of alcohol and mental health problems on employment outcomes: Harnessing UK Biobank and linked administrative data

University of Glasgow

  • Led by the University of Glasgow, in partnership with the University of Bristol
  • Project will assess the causal effects of alcohol consumption and depression on social and economic outcomes, including employment, receipt of welfare benefits and income
  • Will use Mendelian randomisation techniques to analyse the relationships between genetic markers for alcohol problems and depression, and employment and other outcomes, and regression analysis of linked data to predict outcomes
  • The project will run for 32 months from April 2018.

This project, led by the University of Glasgow, aims to improve understanding of the relationships between mental health problems and employment outcomes in order to establish the value of strategies to maintain good mental health for broader society.

Mental health issues such as depression and alcohol-related problems are a major burden of illness in the UK. In contrast to many physical health problems, mental health conditions particularly affect the working age population, which in turn impacts on the UK economy.

Mental health disorders are now the most common reason for receiving sickness and disability benefits and are linked to worklessness and adverse social outcomes. However, the causal relationship between them remains unclear.

Studying the relationship between mental health and social outcomes is challenging because the causal effects are likely to operate in both directions; for example, employment may cause good mental health, and good mental health may make worklessness less likely.

This project will use UK Biobank data to estimate the causal effects of alcohol consumption and depression on social outcomes, thereby identifying the long-term benefit of action to avoid the erosion of mental health and wellbeing. Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study data will be confidentially linked to Scottish health datasets to understand the loss of economic output as a consequence of the erosion of mental health status after the development of depression or alcohol-related problems.

Two methodological approaches will be used: Mendelian randomisation (which uses genetic variants to test the causal effect of a risk factor on a health-related outcome), and regression analyses of linked health and welfare datasets.

Qualitative methods will also be used to analyse policy discourse, key informant perspectives, and the lived experiences of people with mental health and alcohol problems.

This work aims to provide an understanding of the potential societal benefits of maintaining and improving mental health, and preventing and treating alcohol problems through investment in treatment and recovery services. Understanding the complex relationship and factors that impact individuals’ ability to sustain employment when facing mental health issues will enable government, employers and individuals better to plan policies and interventions, and to self-manage conditions.

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Contact information

For more information about this project, please contact Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, University of Glasgow.

Further reading

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