Research links additional 590 suicides and 725,000 antidepressant prescriptions over three years to impact of work capability assessment.
Tougher “fit for work” tests to assess eligibility for disability benefit may have taken a serious toll on mental health in England, according to a study that linked the tests to 590 extra suicides and hundreds of thousands of additional antidepressant prescriptions.
Published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the analysis follows research published last week which found that debt, austerity and unemployment were significant factors in the rising number of British men who have killed themselves since the tests were introduced in 2008.
Disability rights campaigners and mental health charities have long called for an overhaul of the assessment scheme, following anecdotal evidence of adverse effects on mental health.
One million recipients of disability benefit had their eligibility reassessed under the WCA tests in England between 2010 and 2013, according to researchers from the University of Liverpool.
The researchers calculated that these assessments were linked to an additional 590 suicides, 279,000 extra cases of self-reported mental health problems and the prescribing of an additional 725,000 antidepressants between 2010-13.
This is equivalent to a 5% rise in total suicides, 11% increase of self-referred mental health problems, and 0.5% more antidepressant prescriptions.
The researchers believe they have ruled out the impact of deprivation, economic trends and long-term trends in mental health, but the methodology can only identify correlations between WCA and the increase in mental health problems. It cannot say definitively that WCA is the cause.
Benjamin Barr, from the public health department at Liverpool University, who is the report’s principle author, said: “The pattern of increase in mental health problems closely matches the increase in assessment of the work capability assessment.”