On an average, an individual spends a quarter of his life at work. Adding to that, on a daily basis, they spend more waking hours at their workplace than their home. This essentially means they spend more time with colleagues than their family. Considering the amount of time spent at their workplace, colleagues/supervisor/workplace environment can have a significant impact on an individual’s well-being, both physical and psychological.
Mental health illness interferes with an individual’s capacity to work productively, live up to their potential and their ability to contribute to the community. Mental health among other disabilities is among the most neglected issues in the global community, more so at workplaces.
Statistics suggest that 20 percent of employees in any organization today suffer from one or the other form of a mental health condition, and while investing in mental health services might appear as an additional cost to organizations, they do not realize leaving such health conditions untreated, costs them much more in terms of productivity and revenue. In fact, as per a recent WHO report, for every $1 invested in the treatment of mental disorders, the return is equivalent to US$4 in improved health and productivity.
Speaking of the state of mental health affairs in the U.S., Wayne W. Lindstrom, Ph.D., Former President and CEO, Mental Health America said, “Our mental and general health are inextricably linked. For almost 20 years, stress-related issues in the workplace have been on the rise.” He further added that these conditions tend to strike during an individual’s most productive working years. Stress-related issues along with mental illness and substance use are among America’s most disabling conditions costing employers an estimated $80 to $100 Bn in direct costs annually.
Global mental health statistics
Mental health concerns are resulting in significant costs to employers not only in US, but across the globe. As per a Mental Health report released by WHO in May 2019, globally nearly 264 Mn people suffer from depression (often accompanied by anxiety). Together, depression and anxiety result in loss of productivity amounting to $1 Tn every year as per the report.
Hong Kong: Despite depression and anxiety being commonly cited mental health problems in Hong Kong, only 51 percent individuals seek help. These are the statistics despite 92 percent respondents considering mental health a serious issue. On an organizational level, 87 percent employees agree mental health should be covered by insurance and nine out of ten agree that employees should be entitled to medical leave for mental health issues.
India: Addressing the gathering at the 22nd convocation of National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans) in Jan 2018, President of India, Ram Nath Kovind said, “Despite the vast number of those diagnosed as suffering from mental health conditions, few receive treatment. Nearly ninety percent of Indians suffering with mental health issues do not receive any kind of healthcare for the condition.” He further added that he believes if mental health issues are left untreated, India will be subject to a mental health epidemic in years to come.
Singapore: As per a survey conducted by YouGov in May 2019, depression (72 percent) and anxiety (52 percent) are the most commonly experienced mental issues with a third of Singaporeans (34 percent) having experienced suicidal thoughts. With age playing a role, younger Singaporeans (aged 18 to 24) are three times more likely (20 percent vs 7 percent) to state they have had mental health issues compared to older Singaporeans (aged 55 and above).
“Many people with mental health issues suffer in silence, as seen by the significant amount of people who choose not to seek help. An alarming number of Singaporeans experience damaging behaviour like suicidal thoughts and self-harm, particularly prevalent among young adults,” said Jake Gammon, Head of Omnibus APAC, YouGov Omnibus.
How workplaces impact mental health
Unsafe work environment culminating out of unhealthy, unethical practices at workplaces causes stress and burnout, eventually impacting the mental health of employees negatively. Workplace related factors that play a role in affecting mental health also as a consequence impact productivity, increase absenteeism and turnover rate. These factors can broadly be categorized under people, work and organization as below:
Workplace threats to mental health
Need of the hour
Work Health Survey 2019 conducted by Mental Health America (MHA), formerly the National Mental Health Association, has brought to light workplace disparities that impact psychological needs of the workforce. Let’s take a look at some alarming statistics on how employees feel:
- 55 percent employees stated they were afraid to take a day off to attend to their mental health
- 54 percent employees did not feel comfortable reporting dishonest or unfair practices to human resources or management
- 69 percent employees felt it was safer to remain silent about their workplace stress
Supervisor communication style: Only 50 percent employees felt they received the necessary guidance from their supervisors to deliver work efficiently and that brought down their confidence/morale and motivation. Supervisor communication style lays the very foundation of approach and contact for any employee to reach out to the supervisor for conversations related to deliverables, work environment, capabilities and factors impacting work. If an employee does not sense a level of comfort, he/she will refrain from speaking up about any ethical issues or opening up about personal issues that might be impacting his/her work.
Culture of safe and open communication: A disturbing 66 percent employees stated that workplace issues negatively affect their sleep, with over 50 percent admitting they engage in unhealthy behaviours (drugs, drinking, etc.) to cope with workplace stress. If employees feel the need to remain silent about issues (professional/personal), it can lead to creation of an unhealthy and unsafe work environment with a negative impact on productivity and a rise in turnover.
Healthy workplace practices recommended by WHO
Article 27 of The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) lays down a legally-binding global framework for safeguarding and promoting the rights of people with disabilities (including psychosocial disabilities). It specifies that every individual with a disability has the right to work, right to be treated equally, should not be discriminated against, and should be provided with needed support in the workplace. However, despite several efforts made to highlight the criticality of such health concerns, any individual who openly speaks up about fighting a mental illness becomes exposed to face discrimination in his/her personal, professional and social circle.
Given the right treatment, individuals suffering from mental health disorders, have a high chance of recovery and can get back to their full potential. Although several organizations around the globe have initiated programs to promote mental health, more work needs to be put in creating a culture that fosters trust and provides a safe space for individuals to openly share how they feel/what they are going through. It is time to prioritize mental health and actively engage with individuals enabling them to revive their mental strength.