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WHO, ILO call for new measures to tackle mental health issues at work

Mental Health does not discriminate based on status in society

By: Henrietta Afful

An estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety. This costs the global economy nearly 1 trillion US dollars.

The World Health Organisation, WHO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have therefore called for concrete actions to address mental health concerns in working population.

These were contained in a publication aimed at addressing the issue of mental health at work.

WHO Guidelines on mental health at work

WHO’s global guidelines on mental health at work recommend actions to tackle risks to mental health such as heavy workloads, negative behaviours, and other factors that create distress at work.

For the first time WHO recommends manager training, to build capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers in distress.

WHO’s World Mental Health Report, published in June 2022, showed that of one billion people living with a mental disorder in 2019, 15% of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder. Work amplifies wider societal issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality.

Bullying and psychological violence (also known as “mobbing”) is a key complaint of workplace harassment that has a negative impact on mental health.

However, discussing or disclosing mental health remains a taboo in work settings globally.

The guidelines also recommend better ways to accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions, propose interventions that support their return to work and, for those with severe mental health conditions, provide interventions that facilitate entry into paid employment.

The guidelines call for interventions aimed at the protection of health, humanitarian, and emergency workers.

“It’s time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health,” the Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.

“The well-being of the individual is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating impact on a person’s performance and productivity. These new guidelines can help prevent negative work situations and cultures and offer much-needed mental health protection and support for working people” he added.

WHO/ILO Policy Brief

A separate WHO/ILO policy brief explains the WHO guidelines in terms of practical strategies for governments, employers and workers, and their organizations, in the public and private sectors.

The aim is to support the prevention of mental health risks, protect and promote mental health at work.

It also aims to support those with mental health conditions, so they can participate and thrive in the world of work adding that investment and leadership will be critical to the implementation of the strategies.

“As people spend a large proportion of their lives in work – a safe and healthy working environment is critical. We need to invest to build a culture of prevention around mental health at work, reshape the work environment to stop stigma and social exclusion, and ensure employees with mental health conditions feel protected and supported,” ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder said.

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