WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY - 10TH OCTOBER 2001
"MENTAL HEALTH AND WORK"
There is growing concern about the global impact of mental illness. Mental health problems are among the most important contributors to the burden of disease and disability worldwide. The burden of mental health disorders on health and productivity has long been underestimated. The American Association for World Health estimates that 400 million people worldwide suffer today from mental, neurological or addictive disorders.
An estimated 2 percent of the world's population is affected by serious mental illness. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says mental illness affects more human lives and gives rise to a greater waste of human resources than all other forms of disability.
In terms of business, in a significant way, people of the information age have replaced the machines of the industrial age as the most important form of capital investment. Today, corporations spend more money every year on telecommunications and interconnecting people than they do on oil, the blood of machines. This tells us - in powerful, financial terms - how important human capital is to global business.
In today's economy, innovation and 'thought content' of products and services give business their competitive edge and in this type of economy, it is the human mind, not arms, backs and legs that will do the heavy lifting.
Innovation and product 'thought content' are brought to market by people, by their ability to think, concentrate, meet deadlines, stay patient, have trust, behave co-operatively, stay resilient, communicate, relate well to others and skillfully use information technology. This is done most effectively by employees who have mental health and emotional well-being. The software revolution has not only created the global information economy, it has created an economy of mental ingenuity, where the mental health of today's workforce is one of the most valuable assets that a business can have.
But this asset is under attack due to rising rates of mental health disability, and this is costing business tremendous amounts of money. Medical conditions that impair the mental health of working people, cost businesses around the world hundreds of billions of US dollars each and every year.
The most common serious mental health problem, depression, is by far the leading source of worker disability in the world today. Business people tend to know a lot about the risks of cardiovascular disease, but not much about depression. We now know though, that these two are linked and that together, they are emerging as the principal sources of workdays lost, through employee disability and premature death.
Mental health problems are driving short-term absenteeism at work, and business, in fact, pays two-thirds of the dollar cost of depression in the form of lost or diminished industrial productivity.
The numbers of known and suspected cases of mental illness are growing. A population the size of Europe is a good current estimate. For most employers, the cost of mental health problems within their workforce is a large and growing liability, with between 10 and 30% of the workforce being affected at one time. The stake which employers have in this issue is not simply one of cost. It is also a revenue issue. The business toll taken by mental health disorders is found in lost sales, lost opportunity costs and customer service problems.
The World Federation for Mental Health is an international organization founded in 1948 to advance, among all people and nations, the prevention of mental and emotional disorders, the proper treatment and care of those with such disorders, and the promotion of mental health. World Mental Health Day is just one of the public education campaigns the World Federation uses to educate and advocate for change.
This year on the 10th of October, the tenth World Mental health Day, will celebrate the theme “Mental Health and Work”, providing a forum for examining workplace matters and how they affect the mental wellness of employees and employers from all walks of life. This is the first time that the World Federation for Mental Health has adopted the same theme for two consecutive years, as it was felt this theme raises issues that could not be sufficiently addressed in one year. Last year’s campaign was used to review the impact of workplace arrangements on the mental health of employees, to highlight the most important issues, and to look for good practices for managing people at work. This year will expand the discussion and aims to draw the attention of businesses to the economic issues at stake.
For the past six years, the South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group has been educating the public and health professionals alike to increase awareness about mental illness and to eradicate the stigma attached to it. As well as offering support services to businesses around South Africa, the Group offers telephone counselling and referrals to support groups around the country and to appropriate mental health professionals.
The business case for the involvement of businesses in the prevention of mental illness, is made not only on humanitarian grounds, but also on solid business grounds. The investment by business in the mental health of its workforce is predicated on a financial return being realized by that investment. The workplace itself – more so than the home – has great potential to improve the rates of early detection of mental health problems. The World Federation of Mental Health has produced a “Twelve Step Business Plan For Depression” based on the assumption that the biggest risk to the value of ‘human assets’ and to the company’s productivity is, beyond a doubt, the effects of stress-related and mental health disorders.