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‘It’s time to focus’: WHO calls for action on worker mental health


Photo: Moyo Studio/iStockphoto

Geneva — Amid a culture in which “mental health and work are integrally intertwined,” the World Health Organization has developed guidelines for addressing worker mental health.

WHO and the International Labor Organization estimate that depression and anxiety prompt the loss of roughly 12 billion workdays a year worldwide. In its World Mental Health Report, WHO reports that 15% of working-age adults experienced a mental health-related disorder in 2019.

WHO says: “Mental health conditions occur irrespective of whether work has causally contributed to them. Poor mental health has a negative effect on a person’s cognitive, behavioral, emotional, social and relational well-being and functioning; physical health; and personal identity and well-being as related to work.

“A person’s capacity to participate in work can be consequently impaired through a reduction in productivity and performance, reduction in the ability to work safely, or difficulty in retaining or gaining work.”

To better accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions or to support their return to work, WHO recommends that employers:

  • Implement reasonable work accommodations and organizational interventions that mitigate psychosocial risk factors. These include reductions to workload and schedule changes, involving workers in decisions about their jobs, and improving communication and teamwork.
  • Train managers to support worker mental health as well as boost knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward mental health.
  • Train workers in mental health literacy and awareness to augment mental health-related knowledge and attitudes at work, including stigmatizing attitudes.

WHO encourages employers to consider various interventions intended to reduce worker symptoms of emotional distress or to build workers’ skills in stress management. These include offering:

  • Stress management and self-care training
  • Communication skills training
  • Opportunities for leisure activity such as walking, yoga, resistance training, strength training and weight training

“It’s time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release. “The well-being of the individual is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating impact on a person’s performance and productivity. These new guidelines can help prevent negative work situations and culture and offer much-needed mental health protection and support for working people.”

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