Conceptualising the social in mental health and work capability: implications of medicalised framing in the UK welfare system

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This paper asks whether the separation of mental health from its wider social context during the UK benefits assessment processes is a contributing factor to widely recognised systemic difficulties, including intrinsically damaging effects and relatively ineffective welfare-to-work outcomes. Methods: Drawing on multiple sources of evidence, we ask whether placing mental health—specifically a biomedical conceptualisation of mental illness or condition as a discrete agent—at the core of the benefits eligibility assessment process presents obstacles to (i) accurately understanding a claimant’s lived experience of distress (ii) meaningfully establishing the specific ways it affects their capacity for work, and (iii) identifying the multifaceted range of barriers (and related support needs) that a person may have in relation to moving into employment. Results: We suggest that a more holistic assessment of work capacity, a different kind of conversation that considers not only the (fluctuating) effects of psychological distress but also the range of personal, social and economic circumstances that affect a person’s capacity to gain and sustain employment, would offer a less distressing and ultimately more productive approach to understanding work capability. Conclusion: Such a shift would reduce the need to focus on a state of medicalised incapacity and open up space in encounters for more a more empowering focus on capacity, capabilities, aspirations, and what types of work are (or might be) possible, given the right kinds of contextualised and personalised support.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2023


  • Mental Health
  • Distress
  • Entification
  • Medicalisation
  • Welfare
  • Unemployment


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