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Mental Health in the Workplace

written by Dr Arien van der Merwe MBChB NHA FRSPH MISMA

Workplace Wellness mental healthDepression affects more than 100 million people worldwide, being the second leading cause of disability among individuals aged 15–50. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by 2020 depression will be second only to ischemic heart disease as the leading cause of disability for all ages and both genders.

Aligned with this, a Business Day article reported on findings from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). One in five workers has a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. These conditions increasingly affect productivity in the workplace as many struggle to cope. People with mental illness are often off sick from work, and between 30-50 % of all new disability benefit claims in OECD nations are now due to poor mental health. Policy makers need to find new ways to tackle the social and economic problem of mental illness because trigger factors, such as stress at work, are likely to increase. Increasing job insecurity and pressure in today’s workplace, will lead to an increase in mental health problems in the coming years.

The OECD furthermore said that most common mental disorders could get better, and the employment chances could be improved, with adequate management. Health systems in most countries, however, were narrowly focused on treating people with severe disorders such as schizophrenia, who accounted for only a quarter of all mental diseases. OECD commented that taking more common disorders more seriously, would boost the chances for people to stay at, or return to, work. About 50% of people with severe mental disorders and more than 70% of those with moderate illness currently get no treatment at all.

The OECD urged policy makers to focus on providing good working conditions which would help employees reduce and manage stress, develop resilience, introduce systematic monitoring of sick leave and presenteeism (employees being at work but not optimally healthy), thereby increasing productivity and employee health and sense of wellbeing, also helping employers to reduce workplace conflict and avoid unnecessary dismissal caused by mental health problems.

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