Addressing the Workplace Mental Health Crisis

mental health

Mental health is a major concern as we emerge from the pandemic. On World Health Day, read this blog offering some advice and views on how employers and employees can manage mental health issues at work.

Author: Wolf Kirsten, Co-Director – Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces and Founder – International Health Consulting.

We are facing a massive challenge today in form of mental illness at the workplace. The global pandemic has left its mark in many ways, one of them, maybe the most impactful in the long run, is the psychological impact. Even before COVID-19, we knew that depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide and that mental health presents one of the toughest challenges to employee wellbeing and productivity. Employers –from small to large businesses– cannot accept this due to the business implications, neither can we as health and wellbeing professionals, especially as many of the reasons leading to mental illness are preventable and originate in the workplace.

The pandemic has triggered an enhanced focus on mental health with an incredible number of resources being offered to employees on behalf of employers in primarily large companies. While this development is very welcome, the question begs how effective are these resources and do employees get what they really need when it comes to mental health? In most instances the evidence is scant, and the impact not measured.

Addressing mental health issues and wellbeing in the workplace is a shared responsibility between employer and employee. No doubt is access to care and treatment essential, whether therapy, counselling or medication. This sounds basic but is not always the case, especially when compared to health care for physical ailments. The advent of telemedicine and teletherapy has opened the door widely and significantly increased access. A whole range of options exist virtual sessions with licensed therapists, chat therapy, video chats with specialists, interactive coaching, peer support groups, self-help sites, game apps, etc.

Evidence shows that online psychotherapy can be as effective as face-to-face therapy, yet the mitigating factors, such as personality, type, frequency, etc., are not fully understood. The evidence becomes even thinner with mental wellbeing apps and self-help resources. For example, while we believe becoming more resilient will help in crises like these, the evidence of the effectiveness of resiliency programmes is limited.

The evidence challenge is further complicated by the need for a comprehensive approach to workplace mental health. Individual, fragmented programmes will not succeed, especially if only focused on the symptoms and not of preventative nature. The impact of the psychosocial working environment on employee health has been widely researched. Psychosocial risk assessment, which is supportive of innovative work organisation and creative job design can be a powerful tool and can assist employees with managing their mental health and pursuit of healthy lifestyles.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that small and medium enterprises may not have the resources or time to pursue wide-ranging mental health initiatives. Yet even in the smallest operations, preventive psychosocial measures will benefit employees and support employers’ efforts to build sustainable companies.

What does this mean for employers and employees moving forward? It means that assessing employee needs and psychosocial risks and addressing them efficiently can benefit everyone involved, especially if employees are involved in the development of the strategy and programme design along the way.

To explore these issues further, you can visit the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces (GCHW) at

This post first appeared on IOE: 

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