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Occupational Deprivation

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Occupational deprivation is often believed to only affect those experiencing extreme situations, whose opportunity to complete desired occupations is restricted and limited. These extreme situations allude to those who are refugees, those currently experiencing imprisonment or even those experiencing domestic abuse, for example. So what is 'occupational deprivation' and why should we all be aware of it?

What is occupational deprivation?

The definition of occupational deprivation is 'prolonged restriction from participation in necessary or meaningful activities due to circumstances outside the individual’s control.' This means that hobbies and activities that people choose to do for their own well-being or as part of cultural norms are being limited. Consequently, rather than occupational deprivation affecting only those in 'extreme situations', it can affect those who are disabled, have mental illness, are homeless, have been hospitalised for prolonged periods, those experiencing racial discrimination, plus many more. Considering this, occupational deprivation is experienced by much more of the population than most people believe. 

The table below shows the number of some of those potentially experiencing occupational deprivation due to their current circumstances:

As these figures show a year-on-year increase, it is likely then that occupational deprivation is also on the rise. 

Why is occupational deprivation so important?

As stated in an earlier article “What is occupational therapy?” the word 'occupation' refers to things that occupy your time and bring meaning to your life. The World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT) states that engagement in occupations are not only a right, but also a need.

Consequently, occupational deprivation results in having a lack of meaning or purpose in your life and creates or prolongs mental and physical illnesses. This is due to prolonged occupational deprivation leading to despair, erosion of skills, poverty, poor health and social isolation. Whiteford (2011) suggests occupational deprivation is in part due to social exclusion, with political dossiers playing a key role. This is due to these dossiers potentially influencing social opinion, often resulting in negative media portrayal, which continues the cycle. Social division is then ensued, potentially leading to social unrest.  

How can we prevent occupational deprivation?

Occupational Therapy Australia position paper states that occupational therapists play a key role in raising awareness and bringing communities together, with the aim of reducing occupational deprivation (or occupational injustice). The paper also suggests occupational therapists should remove environmental barriers to facilitate occupation, whilst designing programmes that enable engagement. Providing information to policy makers is another way to prevent possible unintended occupational deprivation and increase social cohesion and inclusion. Additionally, Hocking (2017), suggests that continued research to increase understanding of occupational injustice is required. However, to adjust social thinking around those who experience occupational deprivation or injustice, acknowledgement of difference, with a focus on ability rather than what they may be receiving is required. 


Occupational deprivation is a far-reaching challenge affecting mental and physical well-being. Social cohesion is also affected by occupational balance, which is all influenced by political dossiers presented at that time. Consequently, in order to ensure a cohesive, social and skilled society, a focus on ability in all is required, as is further research and increased awareness. Occupational Therapists play a key role in this through the services offered, information provided and training in environmental adaptations.

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Unknown member
Nov 11, 2022

A very triggering blog,thsnls for sharing


Jun 21, 2019

Very interesting article here, I personally have a close family member who suffers from occupational deprivation due to his diagnosis of dementia at the age of 54. He is not able to do the occupations of a man of his age and I totally agree that we need to help them find occupations where they will be able to find meaning and purpose into their life again


Bill Knight
Bill Knight
May 08, 2019

Fascinating blog - occupational deprivation is often a concern in vocational rehabilitation and social prescribing.

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