Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is worldwide one of the most concerning
health problems as it is associated with reduced work productivity and permanent disability.
Occupational therapists are often called upon to make a return-to-work decision on employees
with MDD in order to facilitate continued employment. Sustaining employment is in
alignment with achieving the Millennium Development Goal 1: Eradicating extreme poverty,
as it is known that people suffering from mental health disorders are frequently denied
employment opportunities leading to reduced financial resources and therefore possible
Aim: This study described occupational therapists’ experiences of formulating a return-towork
decision on employees with MDD. It formed part of a larger study.
Setting: Occupational therapists working in vocational rehabilitation or mental health in
South Africa with a postgraduate qualification in vocational rehabilitation or mental health
participated in the study.
Method: A qualitative research design was used. Two separate focus groups explored 11
occupational therapists’ experiences of formulating a return-to-work decision on employees
with MDD. Ethics clearance number: S34/2007.
Results: Seven themes emerged, which were, (1) the biographical profile of the employee,
(2) point of view of employer, (3) point of view of employee, (4) point of view of occupational
therapist, (5) declaring the employee as temporary incapacitated, (6) declaring the employee
as permanently incapacitated and (7) employee’s level of motivation.
Conclusion: Occupational therapists ought to have sound knowledge, skill, experience and
the ability to collaborate with employees and employers in formulating a return-to-work decision.