Mental Health at Work

Have you ever been depressed or suffered from anxiety? If so, you are not
alone. A recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) says that one in five workers currently suffers from a
mental disorder, and many are struggling to cope.

Mental illness is a growing problem, affecting productivity in the workplace
and worker well-being. The report says that poor mental health represents about
30% to 50% of all new disability benefit claims in OECD nations. The economic
burden of mental illness in Canada alone was estimated to be $51 billion in
2003, according to the Institute for Work and Health.

The OECD's report, entitled Sick on the Job? Myths and Realities about Mental
Health at Work found that workers with a mental disorder miss work for illness
more often than other workers. And of those with mental disorders who don't
take sick leave, many may underperform in their jobs and have lower
productivity compared to their mentally healthy colleagues.

"Such high losses in productivity suggest that policies directed at sickness
monitoring and management are essential", says the report. "But this approach
is not enough because it implies that intervention and support is in many cases
coming too late. Good-quality jobs, good working conditions and, in particular,
good management play a crucial role."

The OECD reports that mental illness is undertreated. Currently the focus of
health systems is treating people with severe mental disorders such as
schizophrenia who make up approximately 25% of sufferers. Less attention is
being paid to the 75% of sufferers who have common mental illnesses, such as
depression and anxiety. Almost 50% of those with a severe mental disorder and
over 70% of those with a moderate mental disorder don't get any treatment for
their illness, and for many of those who do, treatment is inadequate. Most
common mental disorders can get better, and taking them more seriously would
increase the likelihood of people receiving proper treatment and staying at
work, or returning to work.

The OECD calls for policymakers to find new ways to tackle the social and
economic problem of mental illness. With growing job insecurity and work
pressure, work-related stress and job strain are likely to increase in the
years ahead, as may the prevalence of mental illness. "To help sufferers, a new
approach is needed, especially in the workplace," says the OECD. "This includes
good working conditions which reduce and better manage stress; systematic
monitoring of sick leave behaviour; and help to employers to reduce workplace
conflicts and avoid unnecessary dismissal caused by mental health problems."

Further Information - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety