“Our minds, our rights” is the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, which will be celebrated around the world on Oct. 10.

World Mental Health Day

Under the theme “Mental health is a universal human right,” this day focuses on the importance of mental health and calls for the rights and well-being of people worldwide to be protected and respected. In this article, we take a closer look at Mental Health Day and provide a comprehensive overview of mental health in the workplace.

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World Mental Health Day

Celebrated annually, World Mental Health Day is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO). Its goal is to raise awareness of mental health at work and recognize the urgent need to address the mental health of our society as a whole.

First observed in 1992, this day is an opportunity to reflect on the challenges people with mental illness face every day, as well as to develop solutions for positive change.

Mental Health is a Universal Human Right!

This year’s theme, “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right,” reminds us that mental health is a fundamental and non-negotiable right of every human being. This also applies to mental health in the workplace: we all have the right to work in an environment that protects our mental well-being and where we are neither discriminated against nor stigmatized.

Mental health affects everyone – regardless of age, gender, background or profession! It is just as important as our physical health and has a significant impact on many areas of our daily lives – not least our ability to work. That is why it’s so important that employers, managers, and HR professionals recognize the need for good mental health in the workplace, taking the appropriate action to foster and protect it.

All About Mental Health in the Workplace

The statistics speak for themselves: mental illness is on the rise worldwide and affects increasingly more people. This is also true in the workplace: stress, excessive pressure, conflict, and an unhealthy work environment significantly impact on the mental health of employees, leading to burnout, depression, and anxiety.

Let’s look at 3 worrying statistics.

Mental Health in Numbers

  • Prevalence of mental illness: according to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health problems are on the rise worldwide. One in four people will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime – from anxiety disorders to depression. In Germany, that’s about 20 million people.
  • Work-related stress: stress at work is a common trigger for mental health problems. In an opinion poll conducted by EU-OSHA, about half of European employees stated that they are frequently exposed to work-related stress at their workplace. The most frequently cited causes of work-related stress are job insecurity, long working hours or work overload, and harassment or violence at work.
  • Absenteeism: according to the German Federal Ministry of Health, around 10% of absenteeism among employees is due to mental illness. Globally, depression, alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are among the most common illnesses.

The numbers show that Mental health in the workplace is not an abstract issue but a real-life problem affecting a broad section of our society. But to what extent does the work environment affect the mental health of employees?

The Relationship Between Work Environment and Mental Health

One thing is certain: the work environment plays a significant role in the mental health of workers. A supportive and appreciative work environment can promote well-being, whereas a toxic or stressful environment can exacerbate mental illness.

Some elements to promote mental health through the work environment may include:

  • Stress management measures: a work environment that promotes stress management skills can help protect workers from burnout and other stress-related illnesses.
  • Social support: a supportive environment and a sense of belonging at work can help reduce isolation and feelings of loneliness. Both phenomena are often associated with mental health problems.
  • Preventing discrimination: discrimination and stigma associated with mental health problems in the workplace can have profound consequences. An inclusive environment promotes openness and access to help.

Impact of Mental Illness on Organizations

The mental health of all employees has far-reaching implications for businesses and organizations. Some important aspects are:

  1. Absenteeism: people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be absent from work, leading to lost productivity and higher costs for companies.
  2. Productivity: even though employees may be physically present, their productivity may be severely impaired due to mental illness. Lack of focus, difficulty making decisions, and decreased performance are common symptoms. According to the World Economic Forum, depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion annually in lost productivity.
  3. Turnover: companies that do not promote the mental health of their employees increasingly have to deal with high turnover: new employees in turn mean higher recruitment and training costs.
  4. Reputation: companies that do not pay attention to the mental health needs of their employees risk a bad reputation and difficulties in recruiting.

The mental health of employees must therefore be promoted in the most viable way – not only for moral reasons (though this should always be priority #1!), but also because it demonstrably improves the performance – and therefore the bottom line – of a company.