HR & Management

Mental health at work: Stop ignoring the issue

3 min read

05 March 2015

With the total cost of mental illness estimated at around 3.5 per cent of GDP in Europe, it is an issue that employers can not afford to ignore.

A new OECD report, Fit Mind, Fit Job: From Evidence to Practice in Mental Health and Work, determines that employers are often best placed to identify people with mental health issues at an early stage. But managers need more training and a clear pathway to access support – in most countries, guidelines and regulations exist but have little impact. 

The report estimates that between 30 and 40 per cent of all sickness and disability caseloads are related to mental-health problems. The personal cost of this is high: people with mild to moderate disorders – such as anxiety or depression – are twice as likely to become unemployed. 

“Mental health issues exact a high price on individuals, their families, employers and the economy,” says OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría. “Policymakers have been too slow to act. Strong political leadership is needed to drive reform and tackle this issue.” 

Regrettably, considerable social stigma around mental ill health remains, both in society and at work. Intervening early is critical for those suffering mental health issues, but in practice it can often take ten years between the onset of illness and treatment.

Any action taken in the workplace would therefore have a better, more lasting impact than waiting until people have dropped out of the labour market, the OECD argues.

“While a heavy workload and work related stress may add to mental health problems, the evidence shows that staying at work is also part of the solution if appropriate support is provided,” says the report.

Stigma needs to stop

The social stigma around mental health issues needs to end, and employers need to recognise this and become more aware of both the important role they can play in helping employees, and in making mental health an acceptable and “normal” illness that people suffer from.

Read more about mental health in the workplace:

Bosses continue to fail those with mental health conditions

How to manage employees’ mental health at work

Mentally ill employees need support

One in six British people are expected to suffer from a mental illness at some point, making the job of caring for employees when they do an imperative for British businesses.

Managers should be aware of the stress levels of employees and working not only with those in need, but with everyone to improve the work environment.