7 steps to build a mentally healthy workplace

Six in 10 people say poor mental health impacts their concentration at work.

How to build a mentally healthy workplace
Good mental health enables people to realize their full potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their communities.

However the growing burden of mental illness is staggering. At a global level, one-in-four people will likely experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Meanwhile, over 300 million people are estimated to suffer from depression, equivalent to 4.4% of the world's population, and 800,000 people take their own lives each year.

The number of people living with depression increased by more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. Taken together, mental, neurological and substance use disorders exact a high toll, accounting for 13% of the total global burden of disease (as measured in DALYs, or disability-adjusted life-years). More than 80% of this disease burden is among people living in low- and middle-income countries.

The economic consequences of poor mental health are equally significant. A World Economic Forum/Harvard School of Public Health study estimated that the cumulative global impact of mental disorders in terms of lost economic output will amount to $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030. In India, mental illness is estimated to cost $1.03 trillion (22% of economic output) between 2012-2030. For the same period, China is estimated to lose $4.5 trillion to mental illness. These estimates illustrate the urgency that is needed to tackle mental illness.

Distribution of years lived with disability at the global level in 2012

Image: WHO (2014) – Global Health Estimates

The toll of lost productivity

Untreated mental disorders (in employees or their family members) result in diminished productivity at work, reduced rates of labour participation, foregone tax based income, increase in workplace accidents, higher turnover of staff and increased welfare payments. Six in 10 people say poor mental health impacts their concentration at work and estimates indicate that nearly 70 million work days are lost each year in the UK because of poor mental health.

It is also increasingly evident the negative role that stigma plays by decreasing the chances of people seeking proper diagnosis and treatment. For example, according to a 2008 survey in Canada, just 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72% who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer and 68% who would talk about a family member having diabetes.

The good news is that evidence is showing that treating anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions is an affordable and cost effective way to promote wellbeing and prosperity.

Just $1 of investment in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work. This is good for individuals, families, communities, economies and societies at large.

Employers can become agents of change. The risk factors for stress in the workplace can be modified, and an organizational climate that promotes wellbeing and creativity can be developed by targeting workplace policies as well as the needs of individual employees. Similarly, effective treatments exist for common mental disorders, and an employer can facilitate access to care to those who may need it.

What can employers do?

Mental health experts from across the world of business, civil society and academia were brought together by the World Economic Forum as part of the Global Agenda Council on Mental Health to develop a practical toolkit to promote a mentally healthy organization. This toolkit aimed to support individuals – no matter where they sit in an organization – to develop and build a case for tackling mental illness in the workplace. Seven key actions can lead to mentally healthier workplaces:

1. Be aware of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted to promote better mental health for you, your colleagues and the organization. Every work place is unique. It's important that before starting you source the necessary information about where you work, to determine what policies will be best suited to your company.

2. Learn from the motivations of organizational leaders and employees who have taken action. There is typically no single motivation but, rather, several motivations working in combination, including: protecting the mental health and wellbeing of employees; doing the "right thing" for the employees; benefits in employee engagement and reputation and managing costs and liabilities.

3. Don't reinvent the wheel. Be aware of other companies who have taken action, and how. Around the world companies and organizations are already putting mental health policies into place. The toolkit includes case studies from Bank of England, Bell Canada, BHP Billiton, British Telecom Group, Kind & Wood & Mallesons, among others.

4. Understand the opportunities and needs of you and your colleagues, in helping to develop better policies for workplace mental health. Every organization is different, and will require a unique set of policies to best deal with the needs of its staff. It's therefore important to identify what these needs are, and how a workplace mental health programme could begin to address these.

5. Take practical steps to help your organization. Workplace strategies to protect, promote, and address mental health are commonly delivered by building internal and external partnerships. The successful delivery of any mental health initiative relies on collaboration. Employees can seek educational materials, leverage local training programmes, either use or promote with human resources the use of the adequate diagnostic tools and move forward with the development, implementation and evaluation of workplace wellbeing strategies.

6. Find out where to go if you or a colleague needs help. Getting help for a mental health problem can be a personal and emotional challenge for some people. The important thing is not to be afraid of asking for support, or of being there for colleagues that may need support.

7. Get started. As Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization and a psychiatrist that shepherded the notion that mental and physical health were intimately linked, famously said: "without mental health there can be no true physical health".

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.


A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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