Positive Mental Health and Wellbring in Workplaces

ESN's Mental Health Working Group met for the fourth time in Berlin on 2 March 2011 to look at examples of public and private initiatives, strategies, and programmes - aiming to promote positive mental health, prevent mental ill health-related disorders, and retain or reintegrate people with mental health problems back into work. The ESN meeting preceded the thematic Conference under the European Pact for Mental Health on ‘Promoting Mental Health and Well-being at Workplaces’, organised by the European Commission, German Ministry of Health and Social Policy, and the Hungarian Presidency on 3-4 March in Berlin.

The meeting was hosted by the German Association for Public and Private Welfare (Deutscher Verein), at their headquarters in Berlin, and was opened by Michael Löher, its executive director, who informed the Group about the advocacy and information activities undertaken by DeutscherVerein at national level.

The discussion started by looking at legislative and policy developments supporting people with mental health problems to access employment. Antje Welke (DeutscherVerein) and Eithne O’Donnell (Dublin City Council) explained the legislative and policy frameworks in their respective countries, Germany and Ireland. Antje Welke referred to a whole range of instruments, such as Federal Employment Agency provisions, the Social Assistance Scheme, Integrative Companies, the Integration Service, Supported Employment and the Employment Budget. In turn, Eithne O'Donnell referred to programs such as the Supported Employment Programme that includes needs assessment, job sourcing and development, coaching in the workplace, aftercare and follow up; as well as wage subsidies schemes.

Andrea Angelozzi (Veneto region) focused on the role of health and social services in helping people with mental health problems (re)integrate into the labour market. In general, people with mental health problems can access the labour market through sheltered employment or mainstream employment. Angelozzi explained that countries where mainstream employment schemes have been applied show that they cost less than traditional models yet outcomes are better (60% of clients keeping their jobs vs. 20% in traditional ways of accessing employment).

Anders Moller Jensen (Denmark) presented a specific example of an IPS - User Employment Programme. The Group insisted in the need for companies to use more IPS schemes in which job placements go hand in hand with training to support person placed in the actual job. The group also looked at the promotion of mental health and well-being among a broader population at the workplace. Claire Barcham (ADASS) presented a couple of case studies of mental and emotional well-being policies at the workplace. One such example is the well-known BT case. However, Barcham also presented the South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust’s User Employment Programme aimed at: “providing support for people who have experienced mental health problems in existing posts in the Trust on the same terms and conditions as others”.

HristoBozov (Varna Municipality) looked at ways to improve the knowledge of causes of stress in the workplace. He referred to a risk assessment scheme operated by the Bulgarian Institute of Psychology to the Ministry of Interior, where they operate a programme on prevention and management of occupational stress, aimed at the National Service for Fire and Emergency Safety employees - having identified their position as particularly stressful.

Susana Garcia Heras (Health and Social Foundation in Castile La Mancha -Spain) examined the dimensions of stigma in competitive employment. “Stigma in the workplace is due to the negative images the public associates with mental illnesses, public attitudes and self-stigma, as well as structural discrimination (lack of investment in mental health services)”- she says.

Finally, EijaStengard (THL Finland) looked at the economic and social benefits of a mentally healthy workforce. “Mental health has a whole breadth of impacts. Due to the range of needs and negative experiences associated with mental disorders, there is a need for a range of social services to be provided.” The model used in Finland to promote work ability and well-being aimed at decreasing sick leaves , disability pensions, and premature death as well as an increase in individual productivity. These in turn have an impact on companies, individual’s economy and the national economy as a whole.