How To Implement the World Health Organization’s Guidance on Workplace Mental Health

Last month, for a brief moment, mental health in the workplace was finally at the top of the international agenda. This milestone was reached when the World Health Organization (WHO) released a historic report linking the mental health of individual employees to the workplace and released a blueprint to help organizations worldwide improve the mental health of their employees.

The WHO report and accompanying policy brief – issued 28 Septemberth – Provide a range of evidence-based measures to protect and promote mental health and prevent mental illness in the workplace. Both come at a critical moment.

A 2021 Lancet study across 204 countries found that Covid-19 has unleashed an unprecedented tsunami of mental health challenges. Numerically, the pandemic caused 53 million additional cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million additional cases of anxiety disorders. Aside from the personal tragedy, the economic cost is staggering – a $1 trillion a year damage to the global economy, according to the WHO.

Those of us who saw the challenge coming are particularly encouraged by WHO’s bold stance and innovative approaches. Organizations should build on this momentum by putting mental health at the forefront of their business agendas and prioritizing funding for effective initiatives.

Recommendations and tactics, backed by evidence-based data, should guide leadership in measuring progress in workplace mental health over time for tangible results. That’s why Columbia University, Ethisphere and One Mind have developed a standardized assessment tool, aligned with WHO global guidelines and standards, that allows organizations to assess their programs and services.

Where should companies start implementing the WHO guidelines?

In its report, WHO issued 12 recommendations to help organizations focus on mental health promotion; train managers and workers to recognize and respond to mental health problems; and implement specific interventions to make workplaces more conducive to employee well-being. These include:

· Organizational interventions to reduce emotional stress, enable decent working conditions, address workload and schedule challenges, and improve communication, teamwork, and work-related outcomes.

· Training for both managers and employees to improve mental health knowledge, attitudes and behavior; reduce stigma; and improve the skills needed to seek help and utilize resources.

Initiatives that promote mindfulness and well-being, such as B. Creating opportunities for physical activity, stress management, self-care, communication skills and problem solving.

· Steps to help workers return to work after overcoming mental health problems and to welcome more workers living with mental illness.

The WHO guidelines are revolutionary both for their novelty and for their use of evidence-based interventions. This is strength and opportunity at the same time. Researchers can and should make recommendations based on the best scientific evidence. However, employers can test these approaches in the workplace and provide insights that only hands-on experience can provide.

For this reason, public-private partnerships are essential to apply scientific research to real-world challenges and develop best practices that can be used by organizations worldwide. Additionally, these best practices have the potential to expand globally to environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks – including mental health, DE&I and neurodiversity. This combined effort can catalyze action, drive change, and deliver the most effective mental health strategies.

The historic WHO report affirms that advancing mental health is the collective responsibility of every organization – a deeply held belief that drives all of our efforts at One Mind at Work. By creating and maintaining a mentally healthier environment, companies are setting the stage for a new kind of workplace. We look forward to working with organizations that want to put these recommendations into practice and take a critical step towards creating a workplace where all workers can thrive.

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