Workplace mental health: Healthy workforce, healthy society

The European Brain Council (EBC) highlights the challenges around workplace mental health, following World Mental Health Day on 10th October

Jobs and careers are an important part of our lives. Along with providing a source of income, they help us fulfil our personal aims, build social networks, and serve our professions or communities. They contribute to the development of a healthy European population. However, the pace and nature of work are changing which can make a job a major source of emotional strain, affecting our workplace mental health.

A growing body of evidence shows that many workplace mental health issues like job stress, work-life conflict, harassment, and violence exert a human toll, lead to significant social costs and impede productivity. Prolonged job-related stress, for example, can drastically affect physical health. Constant preoccupation with job responsibilities often leads to erratic eating habits and not enough exercise, resulting in weight problems, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels. It can cause burnout that can lead to depression, which, in turn, has been linked to a variety of other health concerns such as heart disease and stroke, obesity and eating disorders, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Chronic depression also reduces immunity to other types of illnesses, and can even contribute to premature death.

Depression in the workplace is a leading cause of lost work productivity, sick leave and early retirement worldwide. In Europe alone, mental health conditions like depression place a heavy burden on society as a whole:

  • One in ten working people have taken time off work because of depression, and around 350 million working days are lost in the EU each year due to stress and depression;
  • Mental disorders are highly prevalent in Europe and impose a major burden on individuals, society and the economy. They represent 22% of the EU’s total burden of disability;
  • The overall financial costs of mental disorders, including direct, as well as indirect, medical costs through care and lost productivity, amount to more than €450 billion per year in the EU.

Stigma also accounts for a big part of the problem. The misunderstanding that surrounds mental health problems or illness contributes to preconceived notions, misperceptions and fears. Employees facing mental health challenges often choose to suffer in silence and/or avoid getting help rather than face the stigma and discrimination.

The opportunity

The workplace culture, including good psychosocial management practices, contributes considerably to an organisation’s success. It has been observed that it improves the sense of wellness and overall satisfaction among employees, service quality and subsequent client satisfaction, strengthen reputation in the community and increases brand awareness.

Mental health and well-being of the workforce is a key resource for productivity and innovation in Europe as well as a critical asset for companies. There is no doubt that a wide variety of working conditions are powerful determinants of health, for better or for worse. Employers can make a major contribution to the well-being of society by their actions, therefore businesses have an important role to play, not only as employers but also as advocates for health in society.

The European Brain Council (EBC)—a non-profit organisation gathering patient associations, major brain-related societies as well as industries, to promote the improvement of the quality of life of those living with brain disorders in Europe—is strongly convinced that mental health and well-being of the workforce is a key resource for productivity and innovation in the EU.

Employment not only involves focusing on more jobs but also on better jobs, therefore key existing recommendations should be consolidated and tangible preventive measures need to be developed to improve the well-being of the workforce. This should be done in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, including employers and employee organisations, to be implemented in human resources policies within the workplace.

The initiative

A strong opportunity exists to reach deeper into the “silent majority” suffering from the burdens of mental health disease in the workplace and broaden the reach of mental health education. Most organisations advocating for mental health today cannot claim to have started the conversation on mental health in the workplace, however, collectively, we do want to strengthen it, and make all employees feel safe and comfortable enough to “not feel okay” in their work environment or at times in their career.

“Not Myself Today” was introduced to workplaces in Canada in 2013, to encourage employers and employees to transform mental health at work, and is now being piloted by EBC in Europe. Over the past three years, the campaign has informed, engaged, recruited, mobilised and partnered with people and organisations to successful and meaningful change in the improvement of mental health. The initiative provides comprehensive resources and tools to organise events and activities that engage employees and aims to reduce stigma and create cultures of acceptance and support for mental health and for those who are facing mental illness.

1 in 5 people at the workplace experience a mental health condition, and with issues like stress and burnout becoming more and more prevalent in this day and age, this statistic can only be predicted to worsen if early intervention and education is continuously avoided. It is vital to have the voices of leading companies and organisations, policymakers and community leaders spread awareness of a campaign that helps employees and employers better understand mental health, reduce stigma and foster a safe, open and supportive workplace environment.

Frédéric Destrebecq

Executive Director

Stephanie Kramer

Communications & Advocacy Coordinator

The European Brain Council (EBC)

Tel : +32 (0)2 513 27 57

www.braincouncil.eu

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