Mental health in the workplace

Mental health in the workplace

Data and numbers

  • Work is beneficial for mental health. However, a negative work environment can cause physical and psychological problems.
  • Depression and anxiety have major economic implications: they are estimated to cost the global economy $ 1 trillion in lost productivity annually.
  • Bullying and bullying at work are frequent problems that can have major negative effects on mental health.
  • Organizations can implement several effective measures to promote mental health in the workplace and thus increase productivity.
  • For every US dollar invested in extending treatment for recurrent mental disorders, a return of $ 4 is obtained to improve health and productivity.


It is estimated that 264 million people in the world suffer from depression, which is one of the main causes of disability. In addition, many of them also have symptoms of anxiety. According to a recent study led by the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $ 1 trillion annually in lost productivity. On the other hand, unemployment is well known to be a risk factor for mental problems, while getting a job or returning to work has protective effects.

However, the adverse working environment can cause physical and mental problems, harmful use of substances and alcohol, absenteeism and loss of productivity. Promoting mental health in the workplace and supporting people with mental disorders increases the possibility of reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity, and obtaining the economic benefits of these effects.

This fact sheet covers workplace mental and health disorders and problems that can cause or worsen due to work, such as stress and fatigue, although they are not psychological disorders.

Work-related health risks

There are many factors in the work environment that can affect mental health. In most cases, the risks involved in the inappropriate interaction between the type of work, the organizational and administrative environment, the skills and competencies of employees, and the facilities provided to them to carry out their work are due. For example, it may happen that a person possesses the necessary skills to carry out his tasks but does not have sufficient resources or receives the support he needs due to the company’s management and management practices.

Here are some mental health risks:

  • Insufficient safety and health protection policies;
  • Ineffective management and communication practices;
  • little power to decide for the worker or not to control their work area.
  • Low level of staff support;
  • Strict work schedules. And
  • Lack of clarity in the areas or organizational goals.

Risks may also relate to business content. For example, a person’s assigned tasks may not be appropriate for his competencies or the workload may be permanently high. Some jobs, such as those involving humanitarian action and first responders, have higher risks, which may affect mental health, cause symptoms of mental disorders, or harmful use of alcohol, drugs, or psychotropic substances. Moreover, the risks may be higher in cases where the team is incoherent or social support is not available.

Harassment and psychological intimidation at work (attacking) are frequent causes of work stress and other risks to worker health, and can cause physical and psychological problems. These health impacts have ramifications for companies, resulting in lost productivity and a higher turnover of employees. Moreover, it can negatively affect family and social interactions.

Tips for creating a healthy work environment

An important aspect of making the workplace healthy is the drafting of laws, strategies and government policies, as evidenced by working on this issue from the European Union’s Compass for Work and Mental Health (EU-Compass). In a healthy workplace, workers and managers actively contribute to improving the work environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety, and well-being of all employees. In an academic report for 2014, it is recommended that interventions have a triple focus:

  • Protect mental health by reducing work-related risk factors;
  • Promote mental health by developing positive aspects of work and the characteristics and capabilities of employees; And
  • Trying to solve mental health problems regardless of their cause.

On this basis, the WEF guide highlights the following actions that organizations can take to create a healthy work environment:

  • Understand the work environment and how it can be adapted to enhance the improved mental health of different employees;
  • Learning from the motives of the managers and staff of the organization who took action;
  • not to reinvent the wheel and consider measures taken by other companies;
  • Knowing each worker’s needs and opportunities for developing better mental health policies in the workplace; And
  • Knowing the sources of support people can turn to for help.

These are appropriate interventions and practices for protecting and promoting mental health in the workplace:

  • Implementing and enforcing health safety and protection policies and practices that allow the discovery of disease stress, disease and harmful use of psychoactive substances, as well as providing the necessary resources for that;
  • Inform workers that they can seek help;
  • To enhance employee participation in decision-making, convey a sense of control and participation, and implement practices in the organization that promote a healthy balance between work and personal life;
  • Providing professional development programs for employees. And
  • To recognize and reward employee contributions.

Mental health interventions should be part of an integrated health and wellness strategy that includes prevention, early detection, support, reintegration or rehabilitation. Occupational health services and professionals can help organizations implement these interventions where they are available, but even when they are not available, a number of changes can be made to protect and promote mental health. The key to success is engaging stakeholders and employees at all levels when implementing protection and advocacy interventions and in assessing their effectiveness.

Available studies on the cost-effectiveness of mental health strategies indicate that they are delivering net benefits. For example, in a recent study led by the World Health Organization, it was estimated that for every $ 1 invested in expanding treatment for the most common mental disorders, $ 4 was obtained to improve health and productivity.

mental problems

Support at work for people with mental disorders

Organizations are committed to supporting people with mental disorders to get back or to work. Studies show that unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, is detrimental to mental health. Many of the initiatives described above can help people with mental disorders. In particular, flexible working hours, adapting the tasks assigned to these people, combating negative workplace dynamics, confidentiality, and facilitating communication with senior managers can help them to continue doing or join their work.

Science-based treatments have been shown to be beneficial for people with depression and other mental disorders. Because of the stigma associated with these disorders, employers must ensure that people suffering from these disorders are supported, can seek help to continue or resume their activities, and have the resources to do their job.

Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides a global, legally binding framework for the promotion of the rights of affected persons, including those with psychosocial disabilities. The text recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others and without exposure to any kind of discrimination, as well as to receive support in their workplace.

WHO response

Regarding global policies, the WHO Global Action Plan on Worker Health (2008-2017) and the WHO Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2030) outline relevant principles, goals, and implementation strategies to promote mental health in the workplace. It is about taking into account social determinants of mental health, such as living standards and working conditions; Preventing and promoting health, including mental health, through activities that reduce, among other things, stigma and discrimination; Improving health services, including occupational health, to expand access to scientifically proven care.

In order to help companies and workers, the World Health Organization produced a series of documents on protecting worker health, and made recommendations to address common problems in this area, such as harassment and tension. As part of the WHO mental health gap (mhGAP) program of work, which provides evidence-based tools for providing health services, WHO provides technical tools for early detection and Drug and Alcohol Treatment use disorders and for suicide prevention, which can also be important for improving Mental health in the workplace.

MhGAP Mental Health Gaps Action Program

In this field, the World Health Organization is developing and testing some self-help tools that use information technology and that may be beneficial for people in low and middle-income countries to manage the most common mental disorders, harmful use of alcohol, and pathological stress.

About Saad Mushtaq

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