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October 26, 2017
by Tracey Block

Working Hard for Mental Health and Wellness

October 26, 2017 06:00 by Tracey Block

Mental Health in the Workplace was the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day on October 10. 

Did your workplace take time to recognize it? Did employers and employees engage in open discussions about the effects of mental health in the workplace or the need to provide supports and flexibility for workers with mental health issues? Probably not.

But the hope is that year after year since the inception of World Mental Health Day 24 years ago, recognition continues to grow and negative perceptions are fading of individuals with mental health challenges who strive to be fully contributing employees. 

Globally, World Mental Health Day aims to educate, encourage and shine a light on improvements in mental health options, advocacy and recognition of the need to remove the social stigma surrounding mental health subjects. This year’s goal—how to improve the workplace to promote the mental health and wellbeing of all.

First celebrated in 1992, this day of awareness was created by the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization, with the aim of encouraging collaboration between governments and non-governmental organizations “to advance the cause of mental health services, research, and policy advocacy worldwide”.

Like the global reach of the annual October day of recognition, the need to work and the number of years people across the globe spend working—are aspects that are similarly universal and uniting. “Our experience in the workplace is one of the factors determining our overall wellbeing,” writes the WHO in its website introduction to World Mental Health Day. “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.”

By contrast, a less supportive workplace can negatively impact its workers, causing more mental health problems, potential substance abuse, missed workdays, a loss of productivity, and greater employee turnover. Anxiety disorders and depression, then, are universal mental disorders reported to affect overall success on the job.

The WHO reports more than 300 million people are living with depression, over 260 million have anxiety disorders, and numerous risk factors for mental health issues exist in the work setting. Risk factors on their list include: 

  • Inadequate health and safety policies;
  • Poor communication and management practices;
  • Low levels of support for employees;
  • Inflexible working hours;
  • Unclear tasks or organizational objectives;
  • High workload and personal risk;
  • Lack of team cohesion or social support; and
  • Bullying or psychological harassment.

In her October 10 article on Fortune.com, writer Natasha Bach included statistics illustrating how mental health challenges affect Americans. These numbers were originally collected from the National Alliance on Mental Health, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the American Psychological Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute for Mental Health. Bach listed the following:

  • 1 in 5 (or 43.8 million) adults experience mental illness in a given year.
  • 1 in 25 (or 10 million) adults experience a serious mental illness.
  • 1 in 100 (or 2.4 million) live with schizophrenia.
  • 2.6% (or 6.1 million) Americans have bipolar disorder.
  • 6.9% (or 16 million) suffer from severe depression.
  • 18.1% (or 42 million) live with an anxiety disorder.
  • 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness.

And yet:

  • Only 41% of adults with a mental health condition received help and less than 50% of children 8-15 received mental health services.
  • Only 36.9% of those suffering from anxiety receive treatment.
  • Less than 20% of Americans with moderate depressive symptoms sought help from a medical professional.
  • And 4% of young adults with self-reported mental health needs forego care.

While statistics may still seem less than encouraging, improvements are slowly taking place and recognition of the need to provide employers with standard, reliable resources to promote mental health and employee wellness in the workplace are being produced.

In the US, the National Alliance on Mental Health provides information for support of mental health issues, including helplines, programs and fact sheets. In addition, this year Google introduced a depression screening test and more companies offer employee assistance programs for those experiencing personal or work-related mental health challenges.

In Canada, The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace commissioned a team of researchers on a national study examining the evolution of workplace mental health policies and approaches over the past ten years. Led by Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., the research found increased business competition, higher expectations and longer working hours are contributing to a more stressful work life.

In 2009, while the Canadian research was still in progress, a new program was launched called Guarding Minds @ Work: A Workplace Guide to Psychological Health and Safety. The program provided the first wide-ranging Canadian framework for evaluating and tackling workplace mental health issues.

According to its website: “Guarding Minds @ Work is a unique and free, comprehensive set of resources designed to protect and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace.”

How much will have changed by the next World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2019? Time will tell. Progress rarely happens overnight, but if initiatives like these continue, the future remains bright for the improvement of mental health and wellness in the workplace.

 

References

Bach, N., (October 10, 2017). World Mental Health Day 2017: Illness in the Workplace Is More Common than You Think. Fortune. http://fortune.com/2017/10/10/world-mental-health-day-2017-workplace-depression-anxiety/

Samra, J. (2017). The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health in Canada: Research Report (2007-2017). https://www.hrpa.ca/Documents/Public/Thought-Leadership/The-Evolution-of-Workplace-Mental-Health-in-Canada.pdf

World Health Organization. (Retrieved on October 24, 2017). http://www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/2017/en/

World Federation for Mental Health. (Retrieved on October 24, 2017). https://www.wfmh.global/wfmh/