Work and mental health

Five of the 10 leading causes for disability worldwide are related to mental health issues (acute depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, alcohol abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder). These disorders, combined with stress and anxiety, can have a very strong impact on the working population and must be addressed by employers, trade unions and governments.

The impact of mental disorders on work can have consequences not just on the individuals themselves, but also on the company’s productivity since this will impact workers’ output, the rate of absenteeism, the amount of sick leave and the number of accidents.

It is therefore necessary for employers to provide their workers with a healthy environment and that they inform their workers about mental health issues, providing them with the tools they need to recognise and identify this type of condition as well as services to address them should the need arise.

Stress at the workplace today

Stress is the body’s physiological response when confronted with a situation perceived to be threatening or overly demanding. When this natural response becomes excessive, tension builds up and this has a direct impact on the body, leading to physical or psychological illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, gastrointestinal or musculoskeletal disorders, etc.

Over the last few years, technological, organisational and communication changes that have been ushered as a result of economic globalisation have had a profound impact on the working environment and employment in general.

Men and women workers throughout the world have had to adapt to new types of work organisation and processes, new patterns of work (reduction in staff numbers, outsourcing, flexibility and mobility), higher workloads and more precarious jobs.

The repercussion of these changes on the mental health of workers is such that, according to the ILO, as many as one in ten workers suffers from depression, anxiety, stress or burnout which lead, in some cases, to unemployment and hospitalisation. As in other areas, women are the most vulnerable group since they are already exposed to specific stress factors as a result of the work they perform, their position in the organisational hierarchy, discrimination, sexual abuse and gender-based violence. This is compounded by the double or even triple burden they must bear (in the household, at the workplace and as carers for their families and relatives).

Stress and risk factors at the workplace

The sources of work-related stress affect men and women alike. However, the latter are disproportionately exposed to stressors due to the division of labour, household responsibilities, the lack of professional development opportunities, discrimination, sexual abuse and mistreatment at the workplace.

Some of the sources of work-related stress are:

  • High pace of work.
  • Working to tight deadlines.
  • Short and repetitive tasks.
  • Monotonous work.
  • Lack of control over tasks.
  • Lack of control over work methods.
  • Little support form colleagues.
  • Little support from supervisors.
  • Long working hours.
  • Shift work.
  • Harassment and discrimination.
  • Intimidación, violencia.
  • Job insecurity.
  • Low pay.
  • Lack of promotion prospects.
  • Work of low social value.

The need for prevention

Employers and workers representatives must address the task of preventing the apparition of mental issues among workers. They must also provide the means to help those suffering from mental disorders to reintegrate into employment.

To achieve this, it is necessary:

  • To recognise mental health as an area of interest for employers who should develop policies and action guides on the subject.
  • To implement policies that eliminate unhealthy work environments, discrimination and workplace abuse, as well as adopt labour market integration policies for the disabled, in particular for those suffering from a mental health disorder.
  • Implement programmes of prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.