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WHO and ILO Call for New Measures to Tackle Mental Health at Work Places

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have called for concrete actions to address mental health concerns in the working population. This is after they found out that an estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety costing the global economy nearly USD 1 trillion. 

The organizations published two new publications on Wednesday, the WHO Guidelines on mental health at work and a derivative WHO/ILO policy brief where they recommend actions to tackle risks to mental health such as heavy workloads, negative behaviours, and other factors that create distress at work. 

One of the recommendations made is manager training such that they can respond to workers in distress and also set a stress-free work environment. 

The new publications are coming in just months after the WHO’s World Mental Health Report published in June showed that of one billion people living with a mental disorder in 2019, 15 per cent of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder.

Then, bullying and psychological violence (also known as “mobbing”) were key complaints of workplace harassment that hurt mental health experts at WHO pointed out noting that discussing or disclosing mental health remains a taboo in work settings globally.

The new guidelines also recommend better ways to accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions, propose interventions that support their return to work and, for those with severe mental health conditions, provide interventions that facilitate entry into paid employment. They also call for interventions aimed at the protection of health, humanitarian, and emergency workers.

“It’s time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General in a statement shared along with the guidelines.

“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”.

A separate WHO/ILO policy brief explains the WHO guidelines in terms of practical strategies for governments, employers and workers, and their organizations, in the public and private sectors where they highlight prevention interventions.

“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,” said, Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General.

However, already, the ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 155) and Recommendation (No. 164) provide legal frameworks to protect the health and safety of workers. However, the WHO Mental Health Atlas found that only 35 per cent of countries reported having national programs for work-related mental health promotion and prevention.

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