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Why World Mental Health Day matters, and what can workplace leaders do.

Why World Mental Health Day matters, and what can workplace leaders do2

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year. The main objective is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world, as well as to mobilise efforts in support of mental health.

World Mental Health Day started as an annual activity of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) on the 10th of October of 1992. Since 1996, the WFMH selects a theme for the day. The theme of this year is Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality.

Being mentally healthy is more than the absence of mental health problems. According to the WHO, mental health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and can make a contribution to his or her community. Mental health is an indispensable part of health; there is no health without mental health.

As reported by the WHO, mental health conditions can have a substantial effect on all areas of life (e.g., work performance, relationships with family and friends, etc.). Two of the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year. Furthermore, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Globally, it is estimated that 5% of adults suffer from depression. Nevertheless, the global median of government health expenditure that goes to mental health is less than 2%.

Celebrating World Mental Health Day is a fantastic way to draw attention to barriers to mental health, such as lack of mental health services and stigma in the workplace. Unfortunately, even after years of celebrating World Mental Health Day, mental health is not regarded with anything like the same importance as physical health. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased health inequalities and has affected people’s mental health worldwide. There is no doubt that this crisis has impacted the lives of workers all over the globe, and now more than ever, workplace leaders must support their employees’ mental health.

Why World Mental Health Day matters, and what can workplace leaders do1

On the bright side, according to the WHO, during the World Health Assembly in May 2021, governments from around the world recognised the need to scale up quality mental health services at all levels. And some countries have found new ways of providing mental health care to their populations. During this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign, the WHO has showcased the efforts made in some of these countries and has published new materials on how to take care of your mental health and provide support to others. These resources can help normalise the mental health conversation in the workplace and can be shared with employees. Talking openly about mental health at work can help reduce the stigma and discrimination commonly associated with mental illness.

WHO 2021

Mental health problems in the workplace are associated with increase employee absenteeism, lower rates of productivity and increased costs. For instance, a World Economic Forum/Harvard School of Public Health study (2011) estimated that the cumulative global impact of mental disorders in terms of lost economic output will amount to $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030. According to a report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO; Workplace Stress: A Collective Challenge, 2016), work-related stress costs global society untold billions in direct and indirect costs annually. Furthermore, these related costs are only beginning to be quantified. For example, in Europe, the estimated cost of work-related depression is €617 billion per year, including the costs to employers of absenteeism and presenteeism, loss of productivity and healthcare costs, amongst others.

Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand. The promotion of mental health in the workplace, as well as the support of those suffering from a mental health condition, make it more likely to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

Following the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, a mentally healthy workplace promotes employee health and well-being and boosts organisational performance, benefiting both employees and the organisation. A good healthy environment will enhance job satisfaction, improve morale and the ability to manage stress, and boost physical and mental health. On the other hand, organisations will improve quality, performance and productivity, reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover, lower healthcare costs, and will be able to attract and retain top-quality employees.

Why World Mental Health Day matters, and what can workplace leaders do

How can organisations foster psychologically healthy working environments? The APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence recommends workplace practices grouped into the following categories:

  • Employee involvement (e.g., Self-managed work teams, participative decision making or employee committees).
  • Work-life balance (e.g., flexible work arrangements, assistance with childcare, flexible leave options, etc.).
  • Employee growth & development (e.g., training, tuition reimbursement, counselling services, opportunities for promotion, etc.)
  • Health & safety (e.g., Efforts to help employees develop a healthy lifestyle, health screenings, access to health facilities, resources to help employees address life problems, etc.).
  • Employee recognition (e.g., competitive benefits packages, performance-based bonuses, pay increases, employee awards, etc.).

Finally, evidence is showing that treating mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression is an affordable and cost-effective way to promote wellbeing. Research is key to understand which factors influence health and to identify and test interventions that promote health and wellbeing at the workplace. EMPOWER (The European Platform to Promote Wellbeing and Health in the workplace) is a research and innovation effort, with an innovative pilot of implementation, that focuses on the development and implementation of a novel and low-cost eHealth platform to address mental health in the workplace from a multimodal perspective.

In EMPOWER, we are committed to creating a mentally healthy workplace with a positive working culture. We believe in workplaces where everyone can thrive, feel valued, respected and supported, and where everyone feels comfortable discussing mental health. To help us achieve this, we fully support the World Mental Health Day campaign.




American Psychological Association (APA), Center for Organizational Excellence. Resources for Employees. Benefits of a Psychologically Healthy Workplace. http://www.apaexcellence.org/resources/creatingahealthyworkplace/

International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2016). Report. Workplace Stress: A collective challenge. https://www.ilo.org/safework/info/publications/WCMS_466547/lang–en/index.htm

World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health (2011). Report. The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable Diseases. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Harvard_HE_GlobalEconomicBurdenNonCommunicableDiseases_2011.pdf

World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) (2018). World Mental Health Day History. https://wfmh.global/world-mental-health-day/

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2021). World Mental Health Day. https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2021). World Mental Health Day 2021. Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality. https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/2021

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2021). Mental Health. https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_2


Kerry Rodríguez McGreevy, Psychologist, PhD
WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health Services Research and Training.
Department of Psychiatry. School of Medicine. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. 

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