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Work-related risk factors impact health

Published: 
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS

To introduce the idea of workplace mental health into a scenario where most organisations and individuals do not yet regard mental health or mental ill health with the seriousness that they both deserve is ambitious. But what if we can teach management the inevitability of workplace interventions for improving staff health, morale, wellbeing, and productivity?

When we speak about mental health in the workplace we are discussing occupational health and safety issues. Despite not having focused on psychological health and safety as a population, the time is right given this period of austerity, the increase in incidence and prevalence of mental disorders, and the fact that mental illness accounts for the highest productivity loss worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “A healthy workplace can be described as one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety, and well-being of all employees.”

Quoting a recent guide from the World Economic Forum, the WHO suggests that workplace interventions should take a three-pronged approach:

• Protect mental health by reducing work-related risk factors.

• Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees.

• Address mental health problems regardless of cause.

Employers are cautioned not to disregard the importance of “interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace”, including:

• Implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress, harmful use of psychoactive substances (eg alcohol, opiates, marijuana) and illness, and providing resources to manage them;

• Informing staff that support is available;

• Involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organisational practices that support a healthy work-life balance;

• Programmes for career development of employees; and

• Recognising and rewarding the contribution of employees (WHO).

Workplace health and safety risks

 The WHO says: “there are many risk factors for mental health that may be present in the working environment. Most risks relate to interactions between type of work, the organisational and managerial environment, the skills and competencies of employees, and the support available for employees to carry out their work.”

Some of the risks to mental health identified are:

• inadequate health and safety policies;

• low levels of support for employees;

• poor communication and management practices;

• limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;

• inflexible working hours; and

• unclear tasks or organisational objectives.

First responders, humanitarian workers, and healthcare providers are among jobs that carry a higher personal risk than others. These services can and have been known to impact on mental health, be a cause of symptoms of mental disorders, or lead to harmful use of psychoactive drugs.

“Risks may also be related to job content, such as unsuitable tasks for the person’s competencies or a high and unrelenting workload. Risk may be increased in situations where there is a lack of team cohesion or social support, too few resources to do what is required, or there may be unsupportive managerial or organisational practices (WHO).

“Bullying and psychological harassment (also known as mobbing),” according to the WHO, “are commonly reported causes of work-related stress by workers and present risks to the health of workers. They are associated with both psychological and physical problems. Reduced productivity and increased staff turnover are among the health consequences and “they can also have a negative impact on family and social interactions.

Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation.

Mental health interventions can be supported by occupational health services or an integrated team of professionals, including human resources, for example, where they are available, but even when they are not, several changes can (and should) be made to protect and promote mental health.

—Excerpts from http://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/

• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communication and media practitioner. She holds an MA in Mass Communications and has completed the Masters in Public Health (MPH) from The UWI. Write to: [email protected]