EMPOWER member José Luis Ayuso Mateos, from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) team, has participated in the guideline development group to address mental health at work.
An estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy nearly US$ 1 trillion. Two new publications addressing this issue are published today – The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on mental health at work and a derivative WHO/ International Labour Organization (ILO) policy brief.
The WHO and the ILO have called for concrete actions to address mental health concerns in the working population. Moreover, the new global WHO guidelines on mental health at work are reinforced by practical strategies outlined in a joint WHO/ILO policy brief.
The WHO has published these guidelines for the first time, and Prof. José Luis Ayuso-Mateos, Chair of Psychiatry at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) Medical School and lead researcher at the Centre for Biomedical Research in Mental Health (CIBERSAM), has been an active member of the guideline development group. Prof. Ayuso-Mateos is also Director of the UAM Collaborating Center of the World Health Organization for Research and Training in Mental Health Services.
WHO’s global guidelines on mental health at work recommend actions to overcome the stigma around mental health, but also 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 their 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 condition. Work amplifies broader societal issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality. Bullying and psychological violence (also known as “mobbing”) is a crucial complaint of workplace harassment that has a negative impact on mental health. Yet discussing or disclosing mental health remains taboo in work settings globally. New approaches to work, however, consider employees’ well-being and mental health.
Mental health has been an increasingly popular topic throughout the pandemic. According to the WHO, COVID-19 triggered a 25% increase in general anxiety and depression worldwide, exposing how unprepared governments were for its impact on mental health and revealing a chronic global shortage of mental health resources. In 2020, governments worldwide spent an average of just 2% of health budgets on mental health, with lower-middle income countries investing less than 1%. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an overburdening of health systems worldwide. Even before the pandemic, there was a chronic global shortage of mental health resources that continues today.
Notably, the guidelines call for interventions aimed at the protection of health, humanitarian, and emergency workers. 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.
A separate WHO/ILO policy brief explains the WHO guidelines regarding 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, and support those with mental health conditions, so they can participate and thrive in the world of work. Investment and leadership will be critical to the implementation of the strategies.