With today being World Mental Health Day (10 October), International SOS, a health and security risk services company, has highlighted the growing importance of mental health resilience among global workforces. Amidst a global backdrop punctuated by continuous poly- and permacrises, the impact on the mental health of employees has become significant. Stressors, including a global pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis, geopolitical challenges, and an accelerating rate of change in workplaces, have imposed strains on individuals and organisations worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 15% of working-age adults were living with a mental disorder in 2019, and 12 billion working days are lost annually due to depression and anxiety alone. The International SOS Assistance Centre has noted a 5% increase in the number of requests for assistance related to mental illness during the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. Poor working environments, encompassing discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, low job control, and job insecurity, all pose a risk to mental health. Without effective support, mental illness can impact an individual’s capacity to work productively, as well as their attendance and employability.
Dr Oliver Harrison, CEO of Koa Health, remarked, “We live in challenging times, with cost-of-living pressures worldwide, recovery from the pandemic and conflict in Europe against a backdrop of the climate crisis. In this context, mental health resilience has become a critical matter for organisations, public and private.” He underscores the crucial role employers play in supporting employees’ mental health, advocating for harm prevention and the promotion of comprehensive, inclusive, and easily navigable benefits.
Organisations’ Role in Prioritising Mental Health
“To strengthen the health of both their team and their business, organisations must take action to prioritise mental health and wellbeing for all their employees,” Dr Harrison continues. He stresses the imperative for employers to ensure that their workforce has access to the mental health support they require, whether they are dealing with everyday mental health challenges or require clinical support.
Dr Rodrigo Rodriguez-Fernandez, International SOS Global Health Advisor, Wellness and Mental Health, highlighted: “Overlooking mental health issues in the workplace comes with a significant price, both emotionally and financially, and it is a concern we cannot afford to sideline.” He emphasises that the repercussions affect everyone, from individual employees to the organisation as a whole, and advocates for organisations to champion preventive strategies and offer affordable counselling and support to their teams.
Addressing the Shortage of Mental Healthcare Professionals
Dr Harrison added: “With the shortage of mental healthcare professionals reaching record highs, even those employees with a clinical diagnosis struggle to access the support they need. For individuals who don’t yet have a diagnosis, there are usually very few resources, which leaves us in an incredible situation in which people need to get worse before they can access treatments to get better.” He suggests that mental health must be integrated into the benefits strategy, not considered in a separate silo, and envisions organisations increasingly utilising a blend of human and technology to create a more effective and inclusive approach to mental healthcare, thereby better serving the mental health needs of all employees.
International SOS provides a framework for organisations to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of their employees:
- Foster a supportive work culture and ensure leadership commitment: Create a workplace culture and environment that prioritises and encourages open dialogue on mental health. Integrate mental health initiatives into relevant policies and practices that support it.
- Promote mental health awareness: Implement comprehensive mental health awareness campaigns to reduce stigma and encourage open dialogue.
- Provide accessible resources: Ensure employees have a toolkit of mental health resources at their fingertips, from counselling to self-guidance materials.
- Adapt to individual needs: Offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate individual needs and reduce work-related stress.
- Training and education: Roll out mental health training, enabling everyone to spot, understand and assist with mental health challenges.
- Monitor and assess: Seek feedback and continuously monitor the mental health of employees through surveys and assessments to adapt programmes as needed.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Provide EAPs that offer confidential counselling and support services to employees. Digitally enabled mental health care, such as the Koa Foundations Wellbeing App, allows organisations to maximise EAP and existing services uptake and widen access to care while containing or significantly reducing costs.
In a future where the work landscape is continually evolving, the insights and strategies from International SOS and Koa Health offer a vital roadmap for organisations navigating the complexities of employee mental health.