Because the world of work is such a major part of our lives it plays a significant role in how we feel. Just as we can be in optimum physical health or knocked sideways by a health problem, we can be mentally healthy or there may be times in our lives when we struggle with mental and emotional distress. People with good mental health are able to develop and sustain personal relationships and to empathise with others. They can face and deal with problems, laugh, play and also enjoy solitude. Mentally healthy people possess self-esteem and confidence. Mental health problems, on the other hand, can limit the extent to which a person experiences life. These problems range from the anxieties and sadness that everyone experiences as part of daily life, to the bleakest suicidal depression or the loss of engagement with everyday reality. One in four people will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year. The most common mental health problems are anxiety and depression.
The effects of work on mental health are complex. When good, work can be a source of personal satisfaction and accomplishment, social contact, and financial independence and security. It provides meaning to our day and acts as a reminder that other people value us. The right amount of ‘positive’ stress can motivate and energise us to engage in and accomplish projects and take on new challenges. For most people a steady and rewarding job protects against the risk of depression. However, it can also be harmful to mental health. Undue pressure, cumulative stress, long hours and poor management can lead to anxiety and depression. Research has shown that two thirds of people with mental health problems believed that unrealistic workloads, too high expectations and over-work had caused or exacerbated their mental health problems. The cost to individuals and employers is enormous. Half of all lost working days are due to work-related stress. While alarming, this is not so surprising considering the changes that have taken place in the workplace during the last decade. Due to an increasingly demanding work culture, people are neglecting important factors in their lives known to protect mental health. (These include exercise, quality time with partners and families, socializing, hobbies and entertainment.) Neglecting these creates a negative effect on employees’ personal lives, relationships and home life. There are a number of factors at work that can lead to problems. These include being in an inherently stressful job, negative management and personnel practice, poor physical environments, bullying and harassment. Frustration and anxiety also arise if there is a lack of control over the way work is organized, or if the agenda is imposed from above without any discussion. Other factors that can lead to depression include a lack of opportunity to use skills, repetitive and monotonous jobs, uncertainty and lack of feedback on performance, poorly defined roles, an out-of-balance workload, low pay, and poor interpersonal support from managers or colleagues. Employees might also feel stressed in the workplace if there are problems in their personal lives, e.g., an unwell family member, relationship problems, difficulties with dependent children, or a serious personal setback. Being aware of the possibility of mental health problems and their warning signs is a key step in preventions. As there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health issues, many employees remain silent if they are experiencing problems. In fact, many employees feel that if their employers knew about mental health difficulties their jobs would be compromised.
Signs indicating that someone may be at risk can include increased absence, poor performance and timekeeping, headache and backache, indecisiveness, low energy, increased use of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, irritability, tearfulness, and lack of social contact. Any or all of these may suggest problems. When it becomes clear someone is suffering from anxiety, depression or any other mental health problem, early intervention can prevent it from developing into a serous illness. As part of their mental health policy managers should provide access to professional counselling services. Talking to a psychologist at an early stage can be important in helping recovery and rehabilitation.
One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any year