Mental Illness and the Workplace: How Mental Illness Affects Work – Part 2 of 5

Editor’s note: This is part two of a five-part series addressing mental illness in the workplace. Part one explores mental illness in the United States, part two explains ways in which mental illness affects work, part three explains when and how to tell a manager about a mental illness, part four addresses how managers should best proceed with an employee who has a mental illness, and part five makes the connection between the dental industry and depression.

According to the World Health Organization, five of the 10 leading causes of workplace disability worldwide are related to mental illness. The WHO explains that mental health problems are as prevalent in low-income countries as they are in rich ones, cutting across age, gender and social strata. “The burden of mental health disorders on health and productivity has long been underestimated,” reads a publication jointly produced by the WHO and the International Labor Organization titled “Mental Health and Work: Impact, issues and good practices.” The publication goes on to read that the impact of mental health problems in the workplace has serious consequences not only for the employee, it can also greatly affect the company. “In the United Kingdom, for example, 80 million days are lost every year due to mental illness, costing employers £1-2 billion each year. In the United States, estimates for national spending on depression alone are $30-40 billion with an estimated 200 million days lost from work each year.

According to the article “Mental Health Problems in the Workplace” published by Harvard Medical School, symptoms of common mental illnesses—such as depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety—tend to manifest differently at work than they do at home or in other settings. “Although symptoms may go unnoticed, the economic consequences are tangible,” reads the article. Studies assessing the full work impact of mental health disorders often use the World Health Organization (WHO) Health and Work Performance Questionnaire, which not only asks employees to report how many days they called in sick, but also asks them to assess, on a graded scale, how productive they were on the days they actually were at work. The results are measured in sick days and lost productivity.

One study examined the financial impact of 25 chronic physical and mental health problems. Researchers polled 34,622 employees at 10 companies, and tabulated the amount of money the companies spent on medical and pharmacy costs for employees, as well as employees’ self-reported absences and lost productivity using the WHO questionnaire. “When researchers ranked the most costly health conditions (including direct and indirect costs), depression ranked first and anxiety ranked fifth–with obesity, arthritis, and back and neck pain in between,” reads the article. “Many of the studies in this field have concluded that the indirect costs of mental health disorders–particularly lost productivity–exceed companies’ spending on direct costs, such as health insurance contributions and pharmacy expenses. Given the generally low rates of treatment, the researchers suggest that companies should invest in the mental health of workers — not only for the sake of the employees but to improve their own bottom line.”

The World Health Organization recognizes the importance of good mental health in the workplace. In 2001, the organization came up with a list of 25 consequences of mental health problems in the workplace and they are as follows

  • Increase in overall sickness absence, particularly for short periods
  • Poor health (depression, stress, burnout)
  • Physical conditions (high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, sleeping disorders, headaches, etc.)
  • Reduction in productivity and output
  • Increase in error rates
  • Increased amount of accidents
  • Poor decision making
  • Loss of motivation and commitment
  • Burnout
  • Working increasingly long hours but for diminished returns
  • Poor timekeeping
  • Labor turnover
  • Tension and conflicts between colleagues
  • Poor relationships with clients
  • Increase in disciplinary problems

If you feel like you’re experiencing a lot or most of the 25 above problems, or you feel as if your mental health is affecting your work, check back for ideas on how to approach your manager about it. It’s tough, but we’re here to help!

Katie Devereaux

Resume Coach and Blogger at Dental Temps Professional Services
Katie Devereaux is a writer and editor, who graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. She has written for several publications in Florida, Alaska and Illinois.
Katie Devereaux

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About Katie Devereaux

Katie Devereaux is a writer and editor, who graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. She has written for several publications in Florida, Alaska and Illinois.