Mental health and stress in the workplace is a subject that too many employers and insurers shy away from.
Mental illness is a growing problem in society and is increasingly affecting productivity and well being in the workplace. OECD in a new 2012 report “Myths and Realities about Mental Health and Work” says that one in five workers suffer from a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, and many are struggling to cope.
Three in four workers with a mental disorder report reduced productivity at work, compared to one in four workers without a mental disorder. Work absences are also much more frequent for workers with mental illness, and about 30% to 50% of all new disability benefit claims in OECD countries are now attributed to mental ill health.
The report challenges some of the myths around mental health and concludes that policymakers need to look for new solutions. Most people with a mental disorder work, with employment rates of between 55% to 70%; about 10 to 15 % points lower than for people without a disorder.
People with a mental disorder are two to three times as likely to be unemployed as people with no disorders. This gap represents a major loss to the economy, as well as for the individuals and their families.
Increasing job insecurity and pressure in today’s workplaces could drive a rise in mental health problems in the years ahead. The share of workers exposed to work-related stress, or job strain, has increased in the past decade all across the OECD. And in the current economic climate, more and more people are worried about their job security.
Action and early intervention is key as half of all mental disorders start in adolescence. Young people in many countries increasingly enter the disability benefit system without having spent much time in the workforce. This means that the population claiming disability benefits is getting younger in most countries. Once dependent on such benefit, it becomes difficult to relinquish it.
To help sufferers, a new approach is needed, especially in the workplace. 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.
Most common mental disorders can get better, and the employment chances be improved, with adequate treatment. But health systems in most countries are narrowly focused on treating people with severe disorders, such as schizophrenia, who make up only one-fourth of sufferers. Taking more common disorders more seriously would boost the chances for people to stay in, or return to, work. Today, almost 50% of those with a severe mental disorder and over 70% of those with a moderate mental disorder do not receive any treatment for their illness.