EuroHealthNet contributes to the debate on stress at work and the link with health inequalities with its new policy précis on “mental health, equity and work”. The release follows the European Week for Safety and Health at Work with the theme “Managing work-related stress” 20-24 October 2014 and the conference “Driving mental health at work in Europe: learning from one another” of the Joint Action on Mental Health and Well-being, which takes on the 29th and 30th of October 2014 in Berlin. Both have the support of national institutes of health, as EuroHealthNet supports the campaign as a partner and collaborating partner for the joint action.
Health and social inequalities are still one of the biggest challenges in Europe. When addressing mental health factors at work, EU decision makers should include the equity issue. Like other social determinants of health, psychosocial adverse work environments are spread across the social gradient, often affecting the least educated and the people with little or no alternatives the most. For this reason mental health initiatives should always pay special attention to the social gradient, ensuring that initiatives attempt to protect and improve the health of vulnerable groups through additional measures.
These promising initiatives, the OSHA “healthy workplaces manage stress” campaign and the Joint Action on Mental Health and Well-being, draw attention to the challenges facing labour and health policy - namely heavy workload, overly demanding job roles, redundancy and an insecure work environment to name just a few. These factors affect the mental health of the workforce and can lead to chronic stress. Indeed, it is estimated that 50 – 60% of all working days all working days lost can be linked to stress and psychosocial risks which are the second work-related problem in Europe. Studies have shown that if work is organised properly and seen as meaningful by the employee it can have a mental health-promoting impact. This not only entails individual and social costs, but also costs to the economy as a result of reduced productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism – which cost several billion euros annually in the EU.
On the other hand, well organised, meaningful work which provides opportunities for personal development can increase self-confidence and team cohesion and support mental health and well-being. Unfortunately many employers are not aware that psychological stress factors are an important part of corporate health policy or lack resources to monitoring and consult their employees and many are not aware.
Mental health disorders are widespread across the population. Unlike physical illness, mental ill health is still stigmatised and because of that often not diagnosed or properly treated. People who suffer mental health problems are often reluctant to seek help. This affects their quality of life and their productivity and performance at work. Because of the huge burden mental ill-health brings, the issue of mental health and well-being has gained increasing awareness in Europe and several EU initiatives have been developed to raise awareness not only of the importance of mental health but also to tackle factors that affect mental health negatively.
EuroHealthNet will bring the message of the importance to keep the social gradient in mind at the Joint Action conference in Berlin. The conference will address questions on how to prepare businesses for stress management, how social security systems and member states should support companies in dealing with these issues, how policy makers can collaborate to ensure the management of the consequences of the demographic shift at company level, how to create the right prevention strategies and last but not least what the consequences of the current changes in workplaces are for training, continuing education and individual responsibility.
EuroHealthNet’s mental health policy précis is a document which describes the current EU initiatives, addresses the gaps and pushes the way forward in raising awareness of mental health and well-being equity at work.