How to Ensure Mental Health at Work
Growing up can be a real challenge, and many people will tell you so. Transitioning to adulthood often requires young people to start making very important decisions regarding one’s education and career while getting accustomed to new social interactions with family and peers. In today’s ultra-connected world, it can often be difficult to cope with both a changing environment and the social pressure that social media can cause. Unless properly addressed, this additional stress may turn into various mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
The WHO recognises the importance of promoting mental health, particularly at work. On the one hand work can improve someone’s overall mental health. On the other hand, working can also contribute to significant physical and mental health problems. A negative or unsustainable working environment does not only impact one’s health, but also the economy as a whole; it has been estimated that depression and anxiety cost US$ 1 trillion per year to the global economy.
Of course, everyone is different and will be able to cope differently under the same amount of pressure. Nevertheless, many risk factors have been identified in a working environment. They generally revolve around the organisational and managerial environment or the support available for employees. Furthermore, harassment and bullying at work are serious problems that are still frequently reported.
Improving mental health at work has thus become an important component of an organisation’s strategy. A healthy workplace contributes to the overall quality of life of employees and there is strong evidence that it increases productivity. There are several channels available to support mental health at work, and each is worth some consideration.
The first channel to improve mental health at work is governmental legislation and policies, as highlighted by the work the EU has carried on the matter. In 2016, the EU has published a EU Compass for Action on Mental Health and Well-Being and tackles the issue of mental health in the workplace. The report discusses appropriate preventive measures and covers a wide range of measures “from the introduction of statutory regulation to voluntary workplace health promotion measures aiming at prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, including occupational integration”. The full report is available here and is an interesting read for anyone interested in current actions and good practices in the field.
The second channel is concerned with the role of managers in creating a healthy workplace, where both employees and managers can contribute to the promotion and protection of health and well-being of all. The World Economic Forum recently published a guide that suggests a 3-pronged approach to tackling mental health at work:
- Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors.
- Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees.
- Address mental health problems regardless of cause.
The guide includes steps that organisations can take to improve mental health and well-being at work, as well as interventions and good practices. It stresses the need for health and safety policies implementation, to involve staff in decision-making processes and to make support programmes available for all. An integrated health and well-being strategy needs to include prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation.
The third channel to improve our mental health is within ourselves. We can all take steps to improve our mental health and overall wellbeing. Building our resilience and our ability to cope with adversity is a great way not to feel overwhelmed when unexcepted events occur, not only in the workplace but in any environment. Mental Health Foundation suggests these ten ways to improve our mental health:
- Talk about your feelings
- Keep active
- Eat well
- Drink sensibly
- Keep in touch
- Ask for help
- Take a break
- Do something you are good at
- Accept who you are
- Care for others
More details are available on their website, which also covers tips on what you can do to support others in difficult situations.
Mental health remains a stigmatised issue in today society. Discussing and debating on the matter will increase awareness and ensure that appropriate solutions are found for those that may need it.
by Yowali Kabamba
EU Compass for Action on Mental Health and Well-Being – Mental health in the workplace in Europe
Mental Health Foundation – How to support mental health at work
World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Mental Health 2014-2016 – Seven actions towards a mentally healthy organisation
World Health Organisation (2017) Mental health in the workplace