Persistent physical symptoms and mental health problems among individuals seeking work rehabilitation

Sigrún Ólafsdóttir Flóvenz, Paul M. Salkovskis, James D. Gregory, Heiðdís Valdimarsdóttir, Engilbert Sigurðsson, Jón Friðrik Sigurðsson

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Persistent Physical Symptoms (PPS) are symptoms without a known biological cause. They are common and associated with psychological distress, work disability and unemployment. This study aimed to examine the prevalence of PPS and their association with clinical levels of general anxiety, depression, social anxiety, health anxiety or post traumatic symptoms in a work rehabilitation setting and to identify individuals within that setting that might benefit from psychological treatment for PPS. A sample of 324 individuals seeking work rehabilitation filled out questionnaires measuring PPS and mental health problems. To estimate how many service seekers might benefit from psychological treatment for PPS we identified participants who reported both PPS and psychological distress, defined as an elevated score on measures of general anxiety, depression or health anxiety. Eighty point nine percent of participants reported having one or more PPS and 61.7% reported having two or more. Those with PPS were more likely to report clinical levels of depression, anxiety and health anxiety than those without and the number of PPS was positively correlated with symptoms of depression, anxiety and health anxiety. Almost 65% of the participants were identified as having PPS, being psychologically distressed and willing to accept psychological treatment. There is a clear need for specialized treatment for PPS within vocational rehabilitation in Iceland as service seekers commonly have PPS, are psychologically distressed and are willing to accept psychological treatment. Such treatment should preferably be transdiagnostic as the prevalence of multiple PPS is high in this sample.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalNordic Psychology
Early online date10 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2024

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study can be made available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions


  • medically unexplained symptoms
  • mental health
  • Persistent physical symptoms
  • PPS
  • work rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology

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