The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged employers to support their employees’ mental health, which was seriously compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research commissioned by WHO indicates that during the pandemic, depression and anxiety increased by more than 25%.
In his opening remarks at the Mental Health at Work panel, World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Wednesday, WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus challenged nations of the world to prioritise the mental health of workers.
“Just as employers have a responsibility to protect the physical health of their workers from occupational health and safety risks, they also have a responsibility to support their mental health, yet this has been comparatively neglected,” said Ghebreyesus.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on mental health – a toll we are still trying to fully understand. Even before the pandemic, WHO estimated that 1 in 6 working age adults experienced some type of mental disorder. At the same time, the global crisis highlighted the gaps in country capacity to support mental health at work.”
As of 2020, WHO says, only 35% of countries reported having national programmes for work-related mental health promotion and prevention.
“There are many ways in which work can negatively affect mental health, including through bullying and harassment, sexual violence, inequality and discrimination, racism, heavy workloads, underpayment, a toxic culture and more,” the WHO chief.
“At the same time, work can itself protect mental health, providing a sense of identity and purpose, and of course, income. And for people with mental health conditions, good work can promote recovery and inclusion in the community. There is a strong economic interest for employers to support the mental health of their employees. Every year, an estimated 12 billion workdays are lost to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy approximately US$1 trillion a year.”
On the contrary, Ghebreyesus said investment in mental health remains low while the stigma surrounding it remains high.
“On average, countries spend around 2% of their health budget on mental health, and in some countries, there are as few as two mental health workers for every 100,000 people,” he decried.
“And yet, mental health conditions are among the leading contributors to the global burden of disease. There are proven, positive steps that can be taken to improve mental health at work.”