Mental health at work

Work can protect mental health

Nearly 60% of the world’s population is employed (1). All workers have the right to a safe and healthy work environment. Decent work supports good mental health by providing:

  • for a living
  • sense of confidence, purpose and accomplishment;
  • opportunity for positive relationships and integration into society; And the
  • A platform for a structured routine, among many other benefits.

For people with mental health conditions, decent work can contribute to recovery, inclusion, and improved confidence and social functioning.

Safe and healthy work environments are not only a fundamental right, but are also more likely to reduce stress and conflict at work and improve employee retention, work performance and productivity. Conversely, the lack of effective structures and support at work, especially for those with mental health conditions, can affect a person’s ability to enjoy their work and do their job well; It can undermine people’s attendance at work and even prevent people from getting a job in the first place.

Mental health risks at work

At work, risks to mental health, also called psychosocial risks, may be related to job content, work schedule, specific characteristics of the workplace, or career development opportunities, among other things.

Mental health risks at work can include:

  • underutilization or unskilled work;
  • Excessive workload or pace of work, understaffing;
  • Unsocial or inflexible long hours;
  • lack of control over job design or workload;
  • unsafe or poor physical working conditions;
  • organizational culture that enables negative behaviors;
  • limited peer support or authoritarian supervision;
  • violence, harassment, or bullying;
  • discrimination and exclusion;
  • Unclear job role
  • less than or more than promotion;
  • job insecurity, insufficient pay, or poor investment in career development; And the
  • Conflicting home/work demands.

More than half of the global workforce works in the informal economy (2), where there is no regulatory protection for health and safety. These workers often work in unsafe work environments, work long hours, have little or no social or financial protection, and face discrimination, all of which can undermine mental health.

Although psychosocial risks can be found in all sectors, some workers are more susceptible to them than others, because of what they do or where and how they work. Health workers, humanitarian workers, or emergency workers often have jobs that carry a high risk of adverse events, which can negatively affect mental health.

Economic recessions or humanitarian emergencies and public health emergencies create risks such as job losses, financial instability, reduced employment, or increased unemployment.

Work can be a place that expands the range of issues that negatively impact mental health, including discrimination and inequality based on factors such as race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, social origin, immigrant status, religion, or age.

People with severe mental health conditions are more likely to be excluded from work, and when they are at work, they are more likely to experience job inequality. Being unemployed also poses a mental health risk. Unemployment, job and job insecurity, and recent job loss are risk factors for suicide attempts.

Working for mental health at work

Government, employers and organizations that represent workers, employers and other stakeholders responsible for worker health and safety can help improve mental health at work by working to:

  • Prevention of work-related mental health conditions by preventing risks to mental health at work;
  • protection and promotion of mental health at work;
  • Support workers with mental health conditions to participate and thrive at work; And the
  • Create an environment conducive to change.

Work on mental health at work should be carried out with the meaningful participation of workers and their representatives, and people who have lived experience in mental health conditions.

Preventing work-related mental health conditions

Preventing mental health conditions at work is about managing psychosocial risks in the workplace. The World Health Organization recommends that employers do this by implementing regulatory interventions that directly target working conditions and environments. Organizational interventions are those that assess, and then mitigate, modify or eliminate workplace risks to mental health. Organizational interventions include, for example, providing flexible working arrangements, or implementing frameworks to deal with violence and harassment at work.

Protecting and promoting mental health at work

Protecting and promoting mental health at work is about strengthening capacities to recognize and act on mental health conditions at work, especially for people responsible for supervising others, such as managers.

To protect mental health, the World Health Organization recommends:

  • Mental health manager training, which helps managers recognize and respond to supervisors experiencing emotional distress; Builds interpersonal skills such as open communication and active listening; and promotes a better understanding of how work stress affects mental health and can be managed;
  • workers training in literacy and mental health awareness, to me improve mental health knowledge and reduce stigma against mental health conditions at work; And the
  • Individual interventions To build skills to manage stress and reduce mental health symptoms, including psychosocial interventions and opportunities for leisure-based physical activity.

Supporting people with mental health conditions to participate in and thrive in work

People with mental health conditions have the right to participate fully and equitably in work. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides an international convention to promote the rights of persons with disabilities (including psychosocial disabilities), including at work. The World Health Organization recommends three interventions to support people with mental health conditions in gaining, maintaining and participating in work:

  • Reasonable accommodation At work, work environments are adapted to the abilities, needs, and preferences of a worker with a mental health condition. It may include giving individual workers flexible hours, extra time to complete tasks, modified tasks to reduce stress, and time off for health appointments or regular supportive meetings with supervisors.
  • Back to work programs Combine work-oriented care (such as reasonable accommodations or a gradual return to work) with ongoing clinical care to support workers in purposefully returning to work after an absence associated with mental health conditions, while also reducing mental health symptoms.
  • Supported Employment Initiatives Helping people with severe mental health conditions enter paid employment and conserve their time at work by continuing to provide mental health and professional support.

Create an environment conducive to change

Both governments and employers, in consultation with key stakeholders, can help improve mental health at work by creating an environment conducive to change. In practice, this means strengthening:

  • Leadership and commitment to mental health at work, for example by integrating mental health at work into relevant policies.
  • investment of adequate funds and resources, for example by establishing dedicated budgets for actions to improve mental health at work and making mental health services and employment available to low-resource institutions.
  • rights To participate in work, for example by harmonizing labor laws and regulations with international human rights instruments and implementing non-discrimination policies at work.
  • Fusion Mental health in action across sectors, for example by integrating mental health into existing occupational safety and health systems.
  • to share of workers in decision-making, for example through meaningful and timely consultations with workers, their representatives, and persons with living experience of mental health conditions.
  • certificate on psychosocial risks and effectiveness of interventions, for example by ensuring that all guidelines and procedures relating to mental health at work are based on the latest evidence.
  • compliance With laws, regulations and recommendations, for example by integrating mental health into the responsibilities of national labor inspection services and other compliance mechanisms.

WHO response

The World Health Organization is committed to improving mental health at work. The WHO global strategy on health, environment and climate change And the WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2030)

Define relevant principles, objectives and implementation strategies to enable good mental health in the workplace. These include addressing the social determinants of mental health, such as living standards and working conditions; reduce stigma and discrimination; and increasing access to evidence-based care through health services development, including access to occupational health services. in 2022, WHO World Mental Health Report: Transforming mental health for allHighlight the workplace as a prime example of an environment that requires transformative action in mental health.

The WHO guidance on mental health at work Provide evidence-based recommendations to promote mental health, prevent mental health conditions, and enable people with mental health conditions to participate and thrive at work. Recommendations cover organizational interventions, manager training and worker training, individual interventions, return to work, and employment. The accompanying policy brief by the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization, Mental health at work: a policy brief It provides a practical framework for implementing WHO recommendations. It specifically identifies what governments, employers, and organizations representing employers, workers, and other stakeholders can do to improve mental health at work.


  1. Global Employment and Social Prospects – Trends for 2022. Geneva: International Labor Organization; 2022 (https://www.ilo.org/global/research/global-reports/weso/trends2022/WCMS_834081/lang–en/index.htmaccessed August 26, 2022)
  2. Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Portrait. Geneva: International Labor Organization; 2018 (https://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/WCMS_626831/lang–en/index.htmaccessed August 26, 2022).

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