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Work Anxiety: New International Measures To Protect Mental Health

Mental health problems have been increasing in the world in recent years. Ensuring safe work environments is essential to guarantee the mental health of the population. The WHO and the ILO have created new global guidelines for states and employers.

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LatinAmerican Post | Erika Benitez

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Leer en español: Ansiedad laboral: nuevas medidas internacionales para proteger la salud mental en el trabajo

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) have called on governments and companies around the world to adopt special measures to address mental health problems in work environments . This, based on the World Mental Health Report: "Transforming Mental Health for All", published this year, which showed that of the one billion people who reported a mental disorder in 2019, 15% of adults of mental age from work experienced a mental disorder. Job anxiety and depression have spread rapidly.

In this report, the WHO states that mental health is much more than the absence of illness: it is a fundamental part of the health and well-being of individuals and different groups. He adds that, "It is a state of mental well-being that allows people to face the stressful moments of life, develop their skills, learn and work properly and contribute to the improvement of their community."

Most societies and health systems neglect mental health and do not give it the attention it requires. The consequence of this is that millions of people suffer in silence and are affected in their daily lives. It is a problem that has been growing in recent decades, especially in the pandemic, in which work had to be transferred to homes. According to the WHO, COVID-19 caused a 25% increase in anxiety and general depression , which highlighted the lack of preparation of governments to mitigate its impact on mental health and the great scarcity of resources that are intended for this purpose.

Under this framework, what the WHO proposes are a series of measures to deal with latent risks to mental health, such as heavy workloads, negative behaviors and other factors that generate work-related anguish and anxiety at work . It is the first time that this organization recommends the training of company leaders, so that they can prevent stressful work environments and provide support to workers who suffer from them.

The Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, indicated that "it is time to focus on the detrimental effect that work can have on our mental health" , adding that these new guidelines can contribute to the prevention of situations and negative work cultures and offer important mental health protection and support for workers. It is estimated that 12 billion working days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety , costing the global economy almost a trillion dollars.

The prevention, detection and treatment of mental health problems in the workplace is not an easy task, due to its multidimensional nature and the various factors that influence it; In this regard, the Spanish journal of Public Health, mentions in its article "Mental Health and Mental Disorders in the Workplace", that currently, job insecurity and job insecurity are considered two of the most relevant psychosocial risks worldwide. l, which in turn can trigger situations with high levels of stress. Hence the importance of generating tools to deal with these situations.

For his part, Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO, stresses that "since people spend a large part of their lives at work, it is essential to have a safe and healthy work environment. We have to invest in building a culture of prevention for mental health at work, reform the work environment to end stigma and social exclusion, and ensure that employees with mental health conditions feel protected and supported.”

Indeed, what is sought with the directives and orientations issued by these entities is to have a package of practical strategies for governments and companies, whether from the public or private sector, in which the objective of supporting prevention of risks related to mental health at work. Greater investment and initiative will be essential for the success of the strategies.

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Among other things, the organizations have pointed out that an intervention is required in three phases: prevention, protection and promotion, and support. We highlight a few key points:

  • A need to create more job opportunities for people with mental disorders, as well as programs that allow them to return to work safely.
  • Reorganize the physical, social and economic characteristics of work environments. For example, generating flexible work schedules that favor the balance between work/personal life. Also, ensure comfortable and safe environments.
  • Include training in mental health within work environments with programs that allow workers to develop skills.
  • For employers, they must identify the psychosocial risks of their workers and design prevention plans based on these.
  • Clearly define the tasks of the workers and have open and effective communication channels.
  • Design plans for the prevention of violence, harassment and discrimination, with clear information on how to proceed in the face of these.