Workplaces can be places of both opportunity and mental health risk. On the one hand, workplaces that promote good mental health and reduce work stress not only improve mental and physical health, but can also reduce absenteeism, improve work performance and productivity, increase morale and motivation. staff and minimize tensions and conflicts between colleagues. So action to protect and promote mental health in the workplace can be cost-effective.
On the other hand, unemployment, discrimination in accessing or performing work and poor working conditions can be a source of undue stress, increasing the risk of developing new mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Such negative work environments and experiences are the exact opposite of what staff need to do their jobs.
A toxic work environment
“I loved my job, but I started hating it while working in a toxic environment,” says Larry White in Canada. “A long and unpleasant matter at work was sending my mind into panic attacks, anxiety and depression. My doctor said I had moderate to severe depression. I haven’t been able to work at work for days [at a time]. ”
Occupational mental health risks can be related to, among other things, the nature of the work performed, the physical, social or cultural characteristics of the workplace or opportunities for professional development. High job demands, poor job control, job insecurity, poor relationship and procedural justice, bullying, and poor social support in the workplace are associated with an increased likelihood of developing mental health problems.
“The organizational changes made in my absence made me start dreading my weekly business meetings,” Larry explains. “I felt like a target. My normal duties were eroded and the authority of my role was reduced without any consultation, “he says.” She hurt me just thinking about it. I felt like a target. ”
Employers and governments have a responsibility to promote and protect the mental health of all people at work. However, work-related mental health promotion and prevention programs were among the least reported by countries (35%) in the 2020 Mental Health Atlas. no action was taken to support him.
Exasperated, cornered and unable to function, Larry resigned. “After my resignation, my personal feelings burned chaotically with mental anguish, lack of control, isolation, fear, pain, intimidation, disbelief, frustration, disappointment, extreme worry, anger and, periodically, relief,” Larry says.
Job loss is a known risk factor for mental health problems and suicide attempts. But bad working conditions are too. It can be a difficult choice to make. “The happiness, optimism, and trust in others that defined me are still mostly absent,” says Larry. But he has no regrets. “I have chosen to put my sanity and my mental health first. Eventually, I learned a lot about myself and what is important to me. This opportunity for self-reflection is the invisible advantage. ”
Promotion and protection of mental health at work
Nationally and internationally, a wide range of labor laws and regulations can be used to create an environment conducive to the protection of workers’ mental health. This includes workplace safety and health regulations, violence and harassment, as well as minimum wage, equality, health, safety, parental leave, and flexible working laws and policies.
In 2022, WHO will publish the first ever global guidelines on mental and occupational health, which will include considerations on how to ensure safe, supportive and dignified working conditions that promote and protect mental health. The new guidelines identify three types of strategies.
- Organizational interventions reshape working conditions, for example by providing flexible ways of working, promoting a healthy work-life balance and reducing stigma in the workplace.
- Mental health training for managers strengthens the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors of supervisors so that they can better support the mental health needs of their workers.
- Interventions for workers increase the coping skills of individuals and may include stress management training as well as strategies to promote leisure-based physical activity.
There is still a lot to learn about what works, and for whom, when it comes to supporting mental health at work. But in all cases, promoting and protecting mental health at work remains a key strategy for transforming mental health for all.