Contact person:
Stig Westerdahl
  • Malmö universitet
Responsible at Malmö University:
Stig Westerdahl
Project members:
  • Region Skåne
  • Arbetsförmedlingen
Time frame:
29 March 2018 - 31 March 2021
Research environment :

About the project

This project addresses mental illnesses from an organizational and gender perspective. These disorders constitute an increasing and gendered diagnosis, with rehabilitation efforts dependent on the collaboration between a range of actors (employee, employer, doctors, the Swedish social insurance agency, and rehabilitation organizations). By focusing on the newly introduced function of Rehabilitation Coordinator, the project will identify the collaboration processes hindering and enabling successful rehabilitation efforts and return to work.

Mental illnesses referred to as ‘burnout’ or ‘hitting the wall’, have fast become a serious and gendered societal challenge in Sweden. The difficulty in diagnosing and the problems with rehabilitation also makes them contested diseases. The patients are not only facing extensive physical and psychiatric challenges, but also problems associated with the debates about the disease within medical and public discourses. This uncertainty opens up the local situation for negotiations between the different involved actors in constructing the diagnosis and managing the rehabilitation. This situation can be contrasted with short-term illnesses (e.g., a cold or food poisoning) or long-term illnesses (e.g., a broken leg or cancer), where the different actors readily agree upon the underlying problem and a return to work plan.

While most of the research in this area has been conducted with a medical or therapeutical approach, we aim to study how mental illness is managed through various organizational processes. By researching the newly introduced function of “Rehabilitation Coordinator” (“rehab-coordinator”) at local health clinics with the help of interviews and observations, we will explain how disorders through the collaborative efforts are made ‘visible’ and addressed through rehabilitation. Considering that mental illness is more common among women than men and that earlier studies and reports show that there are gender differences concerning the rehabilitation process, it is important that the research highlights the power structures related to gender but also to ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic group and age.

In researching the role of rehabilitation coordinator in the organization of mental illness, the specific project objectives are:

  • Identifying the fundamental problems in the rehabilitation process
  • Developing a model for understanding collaborations of contested issues
  • Evaluating the new occupation’s influence in coordinating and addressing sick leave.
  • In collaborations with Region Skåne, Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan), and Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen), identifying relevant processes to address the gendered causes of mental illness in organizations.

The project is a qualitative study where two approaches will direct the work: case studies based on patients with sick leave and ethnographic studies of the rehabilitation.