World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues and mobilizing efforts in support of better mental health. Mental health in the workplace is the theme of World Mental Health Day 2017.
During our adult lives, a large proportion of our time is spent at work. Our experience in the workplace is one of the factors determining our overall well being. Employers and managers who put in place workplace initiatives to promote mental health and to support employees who have mental disorders see gains not only in the health of their employees but also in their productivity at work. A negative working environment, on the other hand, may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.
Depression and anxiety disorders are common mental disorders that have an impact on our ability to work, and to work productively. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both. A recent World Health Organization, WHO, led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
Organizations have a responsibility to support individuals with mental disorders in either continuing or returning to work. Research shows that unemployment, particularly long term unemployment, can have a detrimental impact on mental health. Flexible hours, job-redesign, addressing negative workplace dynamics, and supportive and confidential communication with management can help people with mental disorders continue to or return to work. Access to evidence-based treatments has been shown to be beneficial for depression and other mental disorders. Because of the stigma associated with mental disorders, employers need to ensure that individuals feel supported and able to ask for support in continuing with or returning to work and are provided with the necessary resources to do their job.
The World Health Organization, WHO, recommends following interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace:
Implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress, harmful use of psychoactive substances and illness and providing resources to manage them;
Informing staff that support is available;
Involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance;
Programmes for career development of employees; and
Recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.
Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation. Occupational health services or professionals may support organizations in implementing these interventions where they are available, but even when they are not, a number of changes can be made that may protect and promote mental health. Key to success is involving stakeholders and staff at all levels when providing protection, promotion and support interventions and when monitoring their effectiveness.
Article 27 of The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) provides a legally-binding global framework for promoting the rights of people with disabilities (including psychosocial disabilities). It recognizes that every person with a disability has the right to work, should be treated equally and not be discriminated against, and should be provided with support in the workplace.
This World Mental Health Day, employers and employees alike are urged to rethink how they approach mental health in the workplace.
For employers, it’s about leading by example, ensuring employees are comfortable having open conversation and offering help to those who need it.
For employees, it’s about finding an employer with good mental health policy, supportive colleagues and looking after themselves to avoid issues such as burnout or stress, which can contribute to mental illness.