Theme Briefing


‘It is Time to Prioritise Mental Health in the Workplace’

Gabriel IvbijaroOn 10 October 2024 we will be celebrating World Mental Health Day with the theme ‘It is Time to Prioritise Mental Health in the Workplace’ chosen by a global vote open to the public, including World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) members, stakeholders, and supporters.

The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) was established in 1948, is the oldest mental health advocacy organisation in special consultative status with the United Nations since 1963 and has been admitted into official relations with the World Health Organization (WHO).

From its inception, WFMH stressed the importance of mental health and world citizenship as a priority for all governments. WFMH’s role is in influencing how this can be achieved through collaboration with a range of different agencies such as the United Nations, UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation), WHO (World Health Organization), food and agricultural organisations, ILO (International Labour Office) and other organisations and institutions with an interest in promoting mental health and world citizenship. In 1992, in pursuit of these founding objectives, WFMH founded an annual World Mental Health Day on 10 October to expand education and advocacy about mental health.

The 2024 World Mental Health Day theme ‘It is Time to Prioritise Mental Health in the Workplace’ provides us with an opportunity to re-kindle our efforts to promote global citizenship and mental health awareness by making our workplaces a healthier place, especially as 60% of the global population is in employment and employees spend 60% of their time in the workplace.

The recognition that work is important to well-being is not new. Over five thousand years ago people in the Egyptian civilisation organised their lives around work and families and believed that this led to a healthy life. Modern research supports this, and helping people with employment should be considered a standard mental health wellbeing intervention especially as only 10-15% of people with serious mental health problems are in employment.

We need to place more emphasis on the link between mental health well-being and employment and re-emphasize the importance of employment support as part of the treatment offered to people with mental illness. Imagine the benefits of increasing rates of employment amongst those with a serious mental health problem from 10% to 50% – this will result in benefits to society by making people less reliant on state benefits and decrease mental health stigma by increasing social inclusion of people with a mental health difficulty.

A 2020 systematic review found that high unemployment rates in young people are associated with long term physical, mental health, and social difficulties. These problems include cardiovascular disease, an increase in criminal behaviour, poor lifestyle choices, increased rates of smoking, alcohol use and substance use, increased rates of suicidal behaviour and increased mortality from alcohol related problems.

In general, even though employment is positive, some working patterns can be detrimental for health when they lead to increased stressors including long work hours, night shifts and weekend work when there are not enough rest periods or being around harmful substances. Such stressors are associated with burn-out and other stress- related mental health problems, absenteeism and presenteeism, and reductions in productivity with a personal and societal cost.

Despite knowing that employment when work conditions are favourable is good, many people who have experienced mental health difficulties choose not to disclose these issues to employers because of fear of stigma and discrimination.

We need employment laws that adequately protect and support people who disclose and have mental health difficulties. Mental health should be a globally protected characteristic enabling the development of healthier more supportive workplaces. We all have the right to a safe and healthy environment at work. Employment is good and supports mental well-being. Being productive and not isolated also decreases risk factors for suicide.

The global community needs to act urgently to ensure that the workplace is a healthy place where peoples’ mental health and well-being can flourish and for employers, productivity can be enhanced.

This will mean addressing inequality and parity issues and employment including gender, race, and health- related disability while also recognising that home is increasingly a workplace, especially since the recent Covid 19 pandemic.

Mental health and employment are important. The bidirectional relationship between mental health and the workplace is crucial to understand. Even the healthiest employees can suffer physically and mentally in an unhealthy work environment. Prioritizing mental health in the workplace is essential for fostering a productive and supportive atmosphere. When employers actively address mental well-being, it results in reduced stress, lower absenteeism, and increased employee engagement. By implementing policies such as flexible work hours, providing access to mental health resources, and encouraging open conversations about mental health, companies can cultivate a culture of care that boosts morale and enhances overall performance and innovation. Investing in mental health is not just compassionate—it is a strategic business decision that benefits everyone.

I am incredibly grateful to the global citizens that have helped WFMH in choosing this years’ global campaign theme, thanks also to WFMH Executives and Board Members including those who have advised the Secretary-General and contributed to this brief.

We invite you to join this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign.

Gabriel Ivbijaro

Professor Gabriel Ivbijaro MBE JP
WFMH Secretary-General
22 May 2024


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