Introduction To Mental Health

October 03, 2018

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), October 10 is World Mental Health Day.  The goal of the day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. Every year has a unique theme, and this year focuses on Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.  Since mental health is a growing concern for employers, The Wellable Blog is launching a four-part series discussing mental health as it relates to the workplace.  Below are the weekly topics.  Subscribe to The Wellable Blog to receive email updates when the new posts are published.

Part 1 (October 3): Introduction To Mental Health

Part 2 (October 10): Scope Of The Mental Health Epidemic

Part 3 (October 17): Why Employers Should Care About Employee Mental Health

Part 4 (October 24): How Can Employers Help Improve Employee Mental Health

World Mental Health Day


Mental illnesses are widely misunderstood and mistreated, and until relatively recently, mental health was hardly considered a mainstream concern.  As an important aspect of overall well-being, mental health in the workplace deserves more attention, and employees with poor mental health need support and resources. 

The WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Mental health encompasses all aspects of emotional, psychological, and even social wellbeing, affecting how an individual acts, thinks, and feels. The WHO strongly emphasizes that mental health is not simply the absence of a mental disorder, as there are many factors that need to be considered when compiling a comprehensive definition of mental health.


Common Mental Health Disorders

The most common mental health disorders fall under the categories of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and schizophrenia disorders.

Anxiety disorders, the most common type of mental health disorder, include panic disorders, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anxiety disorders are often characterized by fear or anxiety linked to certain objects or situations.  Most individuals with anxiety disorders try to avoid exposure to whatever triggers their anxiety.

Mood disorders, which are also known as affective disorders or depressive disorders, include various forms of depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  Individuals with mood disorders have significant changes in mood, generally involving either mania (elation) or depression.

Schizophrenia disorder is a highly complex disorder that is yet to be fully understood. There is still disagreement as whether or not it is single disorder or a group of related illnesses. Individuals with schizophrenia disorders have thoughts that appear fragmented and also find it hard to process information.

The second part of this series on mental health in the workplace will discuss the prevalence of these disorders in the general population and workforce.  The summary is that the problem is significant and materially impacting employers across the globe.


Impacts Of Mental Illness

Those living with mental illness are at greater risk for lower quality of life, educational difficulties, limited productivity, social problems, vulnerability to abuse, and additional health problems.  These challenges greatly impact an individual’s personal and professional life, often creating barriers to thrive in either area.  From an employer’s perspective, mental illness in the workplace can significantly impact the quality of work an employee can deliver and adversely influences the productivity of an entire organization.

Despite many, including employers, viewing the impact of mental illness as being acute to those who have a mental disorder, the effects are much greater. Mental illness also effects families/caregivers and society. Families and caregivers have to balance to requirements of work and other responsibilities with caring for a loved one suffering with a mental illness. This results in additional stress, financial costs, and other adverse conditions. For those employees who are in this role, the impacts are often seen in their work and productivity. 

The societal impact of mental illness varies among cultures and nations. The WHO estimated that mental health problems cost developed nations between three and four percent of gross national product (GNP). When mental illness expenditures and loss of productivity are both considered, the WHO estimated that mental disorders cost national economies several billion dollars annually. Many of the costs to society are ones that directly impact employers, including absenteeism due to mental illness or responsibilities as a caregiver.

Stay tuned next week as The Wellable Blog explores the scope of mental health disorders (who and how many are impacted, industries with the highest prevalence of mental illness, and more).

Topics: Wellness

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