Mental health issues are becoming an increasingly serious occupational health concern in Finland. More than half of all disability pensions granted to Finns under the age of 55 are for reasons of mental health.

Mental health problems are also behind one in every five work days lost to illness.

A study of sick leave per diems and disability pensions granted by the country's Social Insurance Institution from 1996 - 2002 found an increase in all types of work disability with a mental health background. Finland's Minister for Social Affairs and Health says many employees are suffering because of intense job demands.

"It is no longer possible to extract more from people. Instead, they start to feel bad and leave work prematurely. As a result, productivity declines," says the official.

Experts say the prevailing atmosphere at work is the decisive factor. Researchers found that absenteeism increases if employees do not have the support of coworkers, are unable to influence the content of their work, or have conflicts with superiors.

Researchers are calling for a national program aimed at preventing mental health problems. A similar effort helped reduce cardiovascular disease in Finland. They also call for more opportunities for counseling.