There is growing evidence of the global impact of mental illness. Mental health problems are among the most important contributors to the burden of disease and disability worldwide. Five of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide are mental health problems. They are as relevant in low-income countries as they are in rich ones, cutting across age, gender and social strata. Furthermore, all predictions indicate that the future will see a dramatic increase in mental health problems.
The burden of mental health disorders on health and productivity has long been underestimated. The United Kingdom Department of Health and the Confederation of British Industry have estimated that 15-30% of workers will experience some form of mental health problem during their working lives. In fact, mental health problems are a leading cause of illness and disability. The European Mental Health Agenda of the European Union (EU) has recognised the prevalence and impact of mental health disorders in the workplace in EU countries. It has been estimated that 20% of the adult working population has some type of mental health problem at any given time. In the USA, it is estimated that more than 40 million people have some type of mental health disorder and, of that number, 4-5 million adults are considered seriously mentally ill. Depressive disorders, for example, represent one of the most common health problems of adults in the United States workforce.
The impact of mental health problems in the workplace has serious consequences not only for the individual but also for the productivity of the enterprise. Employee performance, rates of illness, absenteeism, accidents and staff turnover is all affected by employees’ mental health status. In the United Kingdom, for example, 80 million days are lost every year due to mental illnesses, costing employers £1-2 billion each year. In the United States, estimates for national spending on depression alone are US$ 30-40 billion, with an estimated 200 million days lost from work each year.
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