We spend one-third of our lives at work - yet mental health support in our workplaces if often lacking Image: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
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By 2030, it is predicted that mental health problems will be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally. Currently, untreated mental health problems account for 13% of the total global burden of disease and, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. These powerful figures highlight the global scale of our mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) Mental Health Atlas, the world’s governments are the most commonly cited source of funding for mental health services. However, with health services under strain, businesses have in recent years realised the role they can play in accelerating progress in mental health.
The majority of people spend one-third of their adult life at work. With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental ill health each year, that’s a significant amount of time in which a large number of people are likely to experience a spectrum of mental health issues. The impact of poor mental health on the workforce is significant and tangible. In the US, NAMI research shows 62% of missed work days can be attributed to a mental health condition. The same study shows that in the case of depression, the disorder is linked to an average absenteeism rate of 2.5 days per month, resulting in costs of $3,540-$4,600 per year, per employee. In the UK, mental health problems in the workplace cost the economy approximately £94 billion annually and 91 million workdays are lost in the UK each year due to mental illness.
An overwhelming proportion of individuals with mental health challenges are not being treated. This is in part due to access issues, but it is also because of the stigma around discussing mental health. Despite the huge drive to raise awareness and challenge this stigma, the workplace remains the environment in which many people feel least comfortable discussing their mental health. A recent UK survey found that despite almost a third (32%) of adults saying they have suffered from mental health problems at work, 49% do not feel there is an appropriate culture in their workplace to enable people to open up about their mental wellbeing. More than half - 54% - said they were not aware what mental health support was available at their workplace. Another UK survey indicated that employers’ main concerns were that an employee with a mental health condition would be a threat to safety, incapable of handling stress, demonstrate unpredictable behaviour or underperform. These types of assumptions and negative attitudes must be overcome to foster a truly diverse and inclusive global workforce.
Fortunately, research has also demonstrated the benefits for businesses when they support peoples’ mental health. The WHO has estimated that for every $1 invested into the treatment and support of mental health disorders sees a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. In a British review of mental health and employers, researchers found that for every £1 businesses invest in mental health training programmes they can see a return of up to £10. These mental health programmes look to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, foster a culture of openness and provide support to those in need.
A baseline objective for any organization intending to address this issue is to open a dialogue around mental health and create an environment that accepts the fact that everyone has mental health and therefore could be susceptible to a mental health challenge at some point in their lives. Two organizations that are tackling this issue are One Mind at Work, based in California, and the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA), based in the UK and Hong Kong. Both are important partners for the Forum’s global programme on workplace mental health, and both organizations are focused on building a coalition of businesses – from start-ups to major corporations – that are committed to improving and caring for the mental health of the workforce. Both One Mind at Work and the CMHA believe that mental health is a business imperative and that the stigma must be eliminated, and both are demonstrations of successful yet different strategies.
One Mind at Work is a programme of One Mind, a non-profit organization founded to accelerate brain health research. One Mind at Work focuses on helping the executives of global employers to challenge the status quo around workplace mental health. This global coalition is the preeminent platform through which leaders can engage with experts and peers on best practices and new research in the field. Through memberships and partnerships, One Mind at Work is connected to the CEOs and chief human resources officers (CHRO) of an increasing number of major international employers. One Mind at Work publishes an annual CHRO insights series, hosts a global forum, and represents nearly 5 million employees and their dependents through its Charter to Transform Mental Health.
The City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) is an alliance of senior business leaders that is supported by an advisory group made up of experts in the field of mental health. The vision of the CMHA is to create mentally healthy workplaces by fostering a culture of openness, increasing mental health literacy and sharing practical steps businesses can take. The CMHA started by getting mental health onto the agend aoc company boards, and now also runs initiatives such as the Thriving from the Start Network, a mental health community that supports people early in their careers. Similar to One Mind at Work, CMHA has created a platform through which members can share their methods of proactively eliminating the discrimination and stigma many people face in seeking treatment, support or accommodation.
Mental health is a multi-faceted issue, and building a truly global response compounds the cultural and resource challenges that exist even in progressive countries like the US and the UK. However, in addition to improving the lives of millions of employees around the world, making mental health a business priority will harness the influence and power of the working population to create much-needed momentum toward broader societal progress around mental health.
To that end, One Mind at Work, CMHA and the World Economic Forum are partnering to showcase the cultural shifts at some of these organisations that have helped to create environments wherein their employees can thrive. In a series of blog posts throughout 2019 that will be hosted on the Forum’s website, leaders of multinational companies will discuss the business and human imperative of creating mentally health workplaces. Importantly, these partners come from within and outside the healthcare sector, but all have one common mission: to improve their cultures and practices around workplace mental health.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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