Nessa Childers, MEP for Dublin and former psychotherapist, spoke today of the need to recognise the benefits of better awareness of, and sensitivity towards, mental health issues in the workplace:
“Every year, on average, one out of four people experience common mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. A more open and supportive attitude alone plays an important role in reducing the stigma that compounds these conditions, and that should concern families, colleagues and management.”
Ms. Childers was speaking from Brussels, today, where she chaired the first meeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Mental Health, Well-being and Brain Disorders of the new legislature.
Two studies on mental health and social integration were presented at today’s event, which gathered representatives of patients associations, healthcare professionals and other health stakeholders and policy-makers.
Ms. Childers said:
“One of the inescapable workplace realities in a time of crisis and austerity is the worsening of certain working conditions that strongly influence our mental well-being. Job security diminishes and pressure on workers and stress increase.
“The latest patient survey from the Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks “Exploring the links between mental health and work shows that, compared to the situation 5 years before, significantly more people fear that employers would not hire a qualified applicant who had suffered with mental illness, or would be passed over for someone without such a health history.
“One third of respondents who didn’t adhere to their course of treatment did so out of fear of disclosure at work. This shows the extent to which people fear stigma or unemployment, come the next time dismissals will be considered in their workplace.
“This, of course, generates a vicious cycle of ill-health that leads to the very absenteeism and inability to lead a productive, fulfilling work life that people fear and loathe when out of the workforce owing to sickness. It also perpetuates incapacity
“Besides the costs to individuals’ and families well-being, we must persuade employers of the need to care for people’s mental health, because, when people reach breaking point, the costs to them and the community at large escalate in obvious ways.
“We invest in ergonomics to prevent bad backs or carpal tunnel syndrome and yet we ignore conditions which are in no way less serious just because they appear invisible and go under-reported because they are still taboo in too many a workplace.
“On the one hand, the wave of de-institutionalisation we witnessed over decades has never been truly accompanied by proper community-based care and support. On the other hand, the industrially inspired work setups that still reign are all too often needlessly unresponsive to individual needs and rhythms out of inertia. We can do much better than that, and it’s well worth our while.”