Abuja attack

…Cost global economy nearly $1 trillion

By Sola Ogundipe

An estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety alone, costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion, driven predominantly by lost productivity.

Lost days refer to the total number of work days lost as a result of worker injury or illness, or the number of work days following an injury or illness during which an employee was unable to perform routine functions.

New publications on mental health released by the World Health Organisation, WHO, and the International Labour Organisation, ILO, titled: “WHO guidelines on mental health at work” and a derivative WHO/ILO Policy Brief, show that people living with severe mental health conditions are largely excluded from work despite participation in economic activities being important for their recovery.

The WHO’s global guidelines recommend a series of measures to address mental health risks, such as heavy workloads, negative behaviours and other factors that create distress at work. The WHO recommends training managers to learn how to avoid stressful work environments and care for workers who feel distressed.

“Work exacerbates larger societal issues that negatively affect mental health, such as discrimination and inequality,” WHO argues.

Bullying and psychological violence, also known as mobbing, is one of the main causes of harassment at work that has a negative impact on mental health.

The guidance also recommends better ways to address the needs of workers with mental health problems, proposes actions to support their return to work, and, in the case of severe symptoms, offers measures to facilitate entry into paid employment.

“The WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, it is time to pay attention to the detrimental effects that work can have on our mental health.

 “An individual’s well-being is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating effect on a person’s performance and productivity. These new guidelines can help prevent negative work situations and cultures, and provide much-needed mental health protection and support for workers”.

The second jointly developed document explains the WHO’s guidelines through concrete strategies for governments, employers and workers, and their organisations, in the public and private sectors. It aims to support the prevention of mental health risks, their protection and improvement at work, and support the participation and development of people suffering from these symptoms in the workplace.

The ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder said, “Given that people spend so much of their lives at work, a safe and healthy working environment is essential. We need to invest in building a culture of prevention for mental health at work, reform the work environment to break down stigma and social exclusion, and ensure that employees with mental health problems feel protected and supported.”

As an example, COVID-19 led to a 25 percent increase in cases of anxiety and depression worldwide, a fact that showed the lack of preparedness of governments to deal with the mental health impact of the disease and also revealed the chronic shortage of resources to combat it globally.

According to the WHO’s World mental health report, published in June 2022, of one billion people living with a mental disorder in 2019, 15 per cent of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder.

Throughout 2020, governments around the world spent an average of only 2 per cent of health budgets on mental health, with lower-middle-income countries investing less than 1 per cent.

The ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 155) and Recommendation (No. 164) provide a legal framework to protect workers’ health and safety. However, the WHO Mental Health Atlas found that only 35 per cent of countries reported having national programmes for the promotion and prevention of work-related mental health.

Against this backdrop, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the ILO have called upon the countries to take concrete action to address mental health concerns in the working population and have come out with two new publications “WHO Guidelines on mental health at work” and a derivative “WHO/ILO Policy Brief”.

The WHO’s global guidelines on mental health at work recommend actions to tackle risks to mental health such as heavy workloads, negative behaviours, and other factors that create distress at work.

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