WHO, ILO call for new measures to tackle mental health issues at work

Mental health

According to WHO, three out of every 20 working-age adults experience a mental disorder.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have issued new recommendations to address mental health issues among the working population as the world marks Mental Health Day.

With an estimated 12 billion workdays lost annually due to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion, more action is needed to tackle mental health issues at work, WHO and ILO said.

“It's time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at WHO, which has issued global guidelines on the issue.

"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."

The UN health agency recommends manager training to build their capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers' needs.

WHO's World Mental Health Report, published in June, revealed that 15 percent working-age adults experienced a mental disorder and constituted a huge part of the one billion people estimated to be living with a mental disorder in 2019.

“The workplace amplifies wider societal issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality,” the agency said.

Mobbing, also known as bullying and psychological assault, is a common claim of workplace harassment and has a detrimental effect on mental health.

However, talking about or revealing one's mental health in professional contexts is still frowned upon.

Additionally, the guidelines suggest better ways to meet employees' mental health disorders requirements and provide therapies that facilitate their return to work.

These new guidelines can help prevent negative work situations and cultures and offer much-needed mental health protection and support for working people," said Dr Tedros.

According to the WHO Mental Health Atlas, only 35 percent of countries reported having national programmes for work-related mental health promotion and prevention.

Covid-19 triggered a 25 percent increase in general anxiety and depression worldwide, exposing how unprepared governments were for its impact on mental health and revealing a chronic global shortage of mental health resources.

In 2020, governments worldwide spent an average of just 2 percent of health budgets on mental health, with lower-middle-income countries investing less than 1 percent, including Kenya.

In Kenya, it is estimated that one in every ten people has a common mental disorder. The number increases to one in every four (20-25 percent) people among patients attending routine outpatient services.

WHO’s 2017 report on the world mental health situation ranked Kenya fifth among the African countries with the highest number of depression cases.

Moreover, the mental health task force report shows high levels of depression and suicidal behaviour, high levels of mental distress and substance use in Kenya.

One of the biggest challenges is low awareness of mental disorders, particularly the symptoms of these conditions, among the persons suffering from the condition and the community at large.

As a result, there are still many cases where people mistakenly believe that mental illness is a curse, a witchcraft problem, or some other spiritual issue rather than a sickness that can be treated and controlled if and when diagnosed and managed by professionals.

Most of the time, those afflicted choose isolation over seeking medical attention.