Poor mental health kills more people than any disease or infection or any other natural or man-made calamity. Added to the cost of precious human life, there are other costs of poor mental health that makes organizations literally bleed through their coffers. In this article business development specialist and interculturalist Fereshteh Amiri unravels the startling facts of consequences of poor mental health and argues why it makes perfect business sense to give mental health of employees a priority.

Deadly consequences

World Health Organization’s statistics shows that nearly 800,000 people die due to suicide, which means one person decides to terminate his/her/their life every 40 seconds. Various factors may lead to the high rate of death by choice but we certainly can assure that mental health plays an important role. In all societies, depending on local and sociocultural context, a certain group of people are in more vulnerable situations and have a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems; such groups and individuals may (and not necessary)1 include members of households living in poverty, people with chronic health conditions, infants and children exposed to maltreatment and neglect, adolescents first exposed to substance use, minority groups, indigenous populations, older people, people experiencing discrimination and human rights violations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, prisoners, and people exposed to conflict, natural disasters or other humanitarian emergencies. As mentioned above, categories of vulnerable minorities with a higher risk of suffering from mental health problems, show us that micro and macroeconomic factors such as financial crisis, hyperinflation rate, unstable and/or hostile socio-political environments play an important role. In the case of hypersensitivity of those individuals and groups of people living in these situations, such factors may lead to stronger patterns that cause experiencing and suffering from mental health problems both in personal and professional life. Based on WHO data on the global scale, an estimate of 264 million people suffer from depression, that is considered an important cause of disability and the majority of the same people also suffer from various symptoms like anxiety. In the United States alone, in 20162, nearly 1 in 5 adults aged 18 or older (18.3% or 44.7 million people) reported any mental illness; in addition, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Mental health problems can reduce one’s productivity and lead the individual and group of people (families) into more poverty, causing society more tangible costs. Most of the people that suffer from mental health disorders3,4 will also, need attention and care for physical conditions5, such as heart disease6, respiratory illness, etc.

The treatment cost for those patients that suffer from both mental and physical conditions will be 2 to 3 times higher than for those without co-occurring illnesses.7 The reality is, employees’ productivity will reduce not only due to absence from work but also, during present days at work before or after calling in sick. Depression, that is one of the most studied topics of all time, affects 6% of 8 employees every year and it carries other symptoms like mood swings as well as anxiety, impair judgment and cloud decision making.

So, what we can do?

Culture, Culture, Culture… we need to build an unbiased and acceptant culture that fights stigma and shame related feelings around this topic. No matter whether we are speaking of South Asia, Middle East, Europe or North America, regardless of cultural difference and traditions, we need to act fast and shake the glass ceiling and shame feelings around mental health at the workplace. The truth is we bring more than ourselves at work every day, and our behaviour not only affects our performance but also those around us. Sooner we have an acceptant culture that balance life and career, that promotes employees needs and puts in the priority speaking up for those who do not feel comfortable and welcomed, sooner we will boost productivity and balance in the workplace.

Building an acceptant culture that provides health assistance for mental illness starts at a higher level of policymaking in every society and Canada can be a very good example. The government of Canada supports the Labour Program’s mandate of promoting fair, safe, and productive workplaces9. Based on Canadian government’s data, one in five Canadian every year experience a psychological health problem or illness that costs the Canadian government every year $51 billion that $20 billion of which results from work-related issues. Therefore, the Labour Act that is in place in every province, provides detailed laws and legislations that force companies to be supportive and boost positive stress and avoid negative stress if possible and if not provide employees the right to signal hazardous workplaces.

Mental Health Europe that is a European non-governmental network organization advocates the rights towards supportive and inclusive workplace, however, applying the rules and supportive structures varies in each country due to very different cultural backgrounds. Long story in short, the European Union Commission in 2014 applied a mandate to all countries in order to support an inclusive and healthy workplace that is in act ever since.

 Is that all?

No, it’s not. Partially, it is government and organizations and HR’s work to address the issue and make sure that legislative support and system is in place, but also, we as citizens and residents, we as humans have the responsibility to make sure we address the issue ourselves. We need to make sure our friends, siblings, parents or simply co-workers are feeling safe to talk about their issues, whether it is depression or ADHD symptoms, or simply fatigue that leads to burn out. We need to open up ourselves and make our society an acceptant, inclusive and unbiased society. It starts with the education of our children in the first place, sharing the knowledge to more seniors that may not be familiar with all shades of this invisible illness.

And, last but not least, we need to confront ourselves with an open dialogue where we permit ourselves to open up without any fears of judgement to talk about our mental issues and insecurities. Speaking up will starts from ourselves and then as then will lead to the other members of family, friends and colleagues. Remember, every generation had its own issues and fears, so maybe it’s time that we, together, talk about those lithium 10 mg pills and how taking control of our lives and building balance in personal and professional lives lead us into a more meaningful journey!

About the author

Fereshteh Amiri

Fereshteh Amiri is a business development specialist and interculturalist with a strong passion for behavioural economics. She is also a certified Joint Health and Safety Committee member in Ontario, Canada, promoting employee’s health and safety in work place.


References

1 Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, World Health Organization

2 American Psychological Association. Stress in America: Coping with Change, Part 1. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2017.

3 Merikangas KR, Ames M, Cui L, Ustun TB, Von Korff M, Kessler RC. The impact of comorbidity of mental and physical conditions on role disability in the US adult household population. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(10):1180–1188.

4 Scott KM, Lim C, Al-Hamzawi A, et al. Association of mental disorders with subsequent chronic physical conditions: work mental health surveys from 17 countries. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(2):150–158.

5 Glassman AH. Depression and cardiovascular comorbidity. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2007;9(1):9–17 

6 Luppino FS, de Wit LM, Bouvy PF, et al. Overweight, obesity, and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(3):220–229.

7 Melek SP, Norris DT, Paulus J, Matthews K, Weaver A, Davenport S. Potential Economic Impact of Integrated Medical-Behavioral Healthcare: Updated Projections for 2017. Milliman Research Report. Seattle, WA: Milliman, Inc.; 2018.

8 Publishing, H. (2019). Mental health problems in the workplace – Harvard Health. Retrieved February 2010, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/mental-health-problems-in-the-workplace

9 Canada, E. (2019). Psychological Health in the Workplace – Canada.ca. Retrieved 16 November 2019, from https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/health-safety/reports/psychological-health.html