World Mental Health Day: Wellbeing at Work is an Asset

Mental health at work should be considered as an asset”. That was the key message sent by experts on World Mental Health Day (11/10). A better dialogue between employees and organisations, implementation of existing guidelines, and a reduction in stigma around mental health in the workplace can make that happen.

Over one hundred participants attended the “Mental Health in the Work place” conference organised in the European Parliament by the European Alliance for Mental Health – Employment & Work, the European Committee of the Regions Interregional Group on Health and Wellbeing and its Secretariat EUREGHA, in collaboration with EPF member Mental Health Europe.

The conference encouraged open dialogue on how to promote mentally healthy workplaces between employees, employers, users of mental health services, and human resource specialists. “It is a matter of language: we need to detoxify the term mental health. Mental health is not mental ill health, we need to promote positive language around mental health at work and beyond” said Bob Grove, Mental Health Europe’s Senior Policy Advisor.

Work-related ill-health costs €476 billion every year

According to European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), in the European Union alone, work-related ill-health and injury costs €476 billion every year, which could be saved with the right occupational safety and health strategies and used for promoting wellbeing and positive mental health. As Brenda O’Brien from EU-OSHA explained “the main reason for companies to address health and safety is to be compliant with the law, it is not about altruism”. Harmonisation of minimum occupational health and safety standards throughout Europe is needed, as well as a better understanding of why it is beneficial to invest in mental wellbeing at work. There remains a lack of understanding and implementation of existing legislation on mental health in the workplace, and participants recommended more and better guidelines on how to interpret existing requirements.

It became clear from the exchanges that mental health promotion and prevention in the workplace is mainly about organisational and structural changes, and most importantly about relationships and language. Stigma and self-stigma also have a huge role to play in promoting mental health-friendly workplaces. “For most people experiencing mental ill health, the stigma attached to it is even worse than the mental health problem itself” explained Anita Hubner, Mental Health Ambassador.

It is essential for organisations to invest in line managers’ capacity building by providing the tools on how to talk about mental health in the workplace and to adopt an integrated approach to physical and psychosocial risk factors when managing employee absence. As Professor Stephan Bevan from the Institute of Employment Studies put it “Do not over medicalise [employee] absence: the job content and relationship at work matter too!

Mental health starts before work

Discussions also emphasised the need to approach mental health at work through a public health perspective. This would benefit employees, employers, and society and would also raise awareness about the importance of risk assessment measures to mitigate against psychosocial risks at work.  “Mental health starts before work. We do not leave our mental health at the door when entering work in the morning” explained David McDaid from the London Schools of Economics.

Participants concluded that mental health promotion in the workplace should be wellbeing-focused and encourage employee participation in the process. Healthy workplaces are about mentally healthy relationships and coherent organisational structures.

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