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WHO, ILO seek action on mental health issues at work

By Ijeoma UKAZU

To tackle mental health concerns in the workplace, the World Health Organisation, WHO, and the International Labour Organisation, ILO, has called for concrete actions to address the lingering challenge in the working population, saying an estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety, all costing the global economy nearly US$ 1 trillion.

WHO and ILO said COVID-19 triggered a 25 per cent 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.

Two new publications which aim to address this issue, WHO Guidelines on Mental Health at Work and a derivative WHO/ILO policy brief were also released to reinforce practical strategies to address depression and anxiety in the workplace.

WHO’s global guidelines on mental health at work recommend actions to tackle risks to mental health such as heavy workloads, negative behaviours and other factors that generate distress at work. For the first time, WHO recommends manager training to build their capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers in distress.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated, “It’s time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health. 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 cultures and offer much-needed mental health protection and support for working people.”

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder in a statement, said, “As people spend a large proportion of their lives in work – a safe and healthy working environment is critical. We need to invest to build a culture of prevention around mental health at work, reshape the work environment to stop stigma and social exclusion, and ensure employees with mental health conditions feel protected and supported.”

WHO’s World Mental Health Report, published in June 2022, showed that of one billion people living with a mental disorder in 2019, 15 per cent of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder. Work amplifies wider societal issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality.

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