Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental Health in the Workplace

Tina Ureten

Working can be a critical part of maintaining one's mental health. It can motivate people, give them the opportunity to learn, grow, be productive, and play an essential role in their well-being.

On the contrary, the workplace can also be a stressful and dangerous environment detrimental to mental health. And because the general workforce spends most of their waking hours at work, it is paramount that mental health issues are addressed.

Many organizations don't play their part when it comes to their employee's mental wellness. While most corporations and large businesses include health and dental insurance in their employees' benefits, their mental health is unsupported, which can have severe physical health issues such as the increased risk of cancer, higher blood pressure, and hormonal imbalances.

Moreover, mental health issues are also detrimental to the workplace, as it is estimated globally that 172 million workdays are lost due to decreased productivity from depression each year.

As such, employers need to foster a work environment that supports mental health for the sake of both their employees and their organization.

Why is Mental Health getting worse in the workplace?

There are some external factors, whether cultural or environmental, that worsen employees' mental health. The increased stress and loneliness are tied to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

Here are some examples:

  • One example of an environmental factor is the Covid-19 pandemic making health care professionals and essential workers more stressed due to higher demand in tasks and drastic changes in safety measures.
  • The pandemic has also resulted in many working remotely, which can make people feel isolated and lonely.
  • Another example is climate change increasing the demand and risk of certain jobs like firefighters with more severe and higher cases of wildfires.
  • As seen in the Western lifestyle, cultural shifts like the increased use of digital communication rather than in-person contact are detrimental to wellness.

How does the Covid-19 Pandemic affect Mental Health? 

Depression and anxiety symptoms reports have been on the rise since the inception of the pandemic. In January 2019, the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey showed that around 11% of adults reported anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms.

Then the pandemic lockdowns and uncertainties have been happening since March 2020. The reported number of anxiety and depressive disorders jumped to 41% two years later.

Some groups are highly affected by the pandemic and at a higher risk for experiencing adverse mental health, such as young adults, women, racial minorities, people experiencing job loss, parents and children, and essential workers. 

There are many ways the pandemic has affected mental health. The main culprit is the widespread social isolation resulting from Covid-19 safety measures. A comprehensive body of research links social isolation and loneliness to poor psychological and physical health.

Furthermore, mental distress, whether from financial insecurities, safety concerns, or increased demand from work for essential workers, is another factor in the pandemic's impact on mental health.

What are the Consequences of Poor Mental Health in the Workplace?

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. It is estimated that mental health problems and mental illness cause 30% of disability cases. Furthermore, mental health problems cost $50 billion each year due to loss of productivity in Canada and USD 1 trillion is lost globally.

Poor mental health in the workplace is also associated with:

  • Worse employee engagement
  • Lower morale
  • Decreased satisfaction
  • Lower retention and recruitment
  • Higher absenteeism
  • Greater grievances
  • Higher health costs
  • Higher number of medical leave

Which professions are under enormous stress and mental breakdown?

Certain factors make a job damaging to mental health:

  • High demand and/or low control
  • High effort and/or low reward
  • Unfair treatment
  • Poor communication and management practices
  • Unclear tasks
  • Excessive workload
  • Unfulfilling work
  • Low employee engagement and/or influence
  • Lack of professional development opportunities
  • Poor physical work environment
  • Physical violence at work
  • Abuse of authority
  • Discrimination
  • General harassment
  • Sexual harassment
  • Lack of work accommodation/flexibility
  • Working in the public eye
  • Competitiveness
  • Hazards encountered
  • Risk to one's own life
  • Threat to the life of another person
  • Interacting with the public

Here are 10 of the most stressful jobs:

  1. Enlisted military
  2. Police Officer
  3. Firefighter
  4. Commercial Pilot
  5. Taxi Driver
  6. Surgeon
  7. Mental Health Professional
  8. Newspaper reporter
  9. Paramedic
  10. Event coordinator

5 Steps Businesses can help their Employees cope with Mental Health Problems

1.Emphasis Open Communication Surrounding Mental Health

The first step is a preventative one. Speaking about mental illness candidly and not treating it as taboo will help others realize they aren't alone and encourage them to talk about their problems openly.

2. Know the Signs of Distress

Knowing the signs of distress allows you to help your employees and yourself early before detrimental problems arise. Equip leaders and employees with the skills, knowledge, and norms to support your colleagues by investing in training that recognizes signs of mental illness and stress.

3. Establish Wellness Programs

Encourage employees to take mental health days off. Offer gym and yoga memberships, meditation guides or encourage any other wellness activities by offering employee benefits. Ensure that everything, from self-help tools to mental health professionals, is affordable, known, and widely available.

4. Embrace and Encourage Self-Care

Foster an inclusive culture where those seeking treatment and self-care feel safe, celebrate recovery, and support social and emotional needs. Keep the conversations about mental health going among colleagues. 

5. Design a mentally healthy workspace

Research has shown engagement, productivity, and overall wellness increase when people feel safe and comfortable in a work environment with natural lighting, plants, and other positive features.

 

REFERENCES:

 Mental health in the workplace

The Top 10 Most and Least Stressful Jobs

Mental Health and Substance Use

The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use

 

Written by: Sean Shih