World Mental Health Day (10 October 2022) is an opportunity to highlight the evidence base for what influences our ability to feel good and function well.
In this blog, we consider the learnings from the Wellcome Trust’s recent report Where next for workplace mental health: putting science to work, which provides an update on the state of the field.
Our experience and perception of mental health is, on average, the biggest single predictor of happiness, and employment is the third biggest factor associated with wellbeing. It is important to understand what works to support and improve these drivers.
Continuing the conversation about workplace mental health
The new Wellcome Vision & Strategy includes mental health as one of three urgent health challenges. Building on the evidence gaps identified in the Wellcome Trust’s first workplace mental health commission, their second commission draws together findings from 15 global research projects.
The projects looked at the effectiveness of interventions for employees in workplaces in low- and middle-income countries, and those who may be underrepresented and/or experiencing inequalities or discrimination in the workplace.
They encompassed a range of workplace environments, including the informal sector and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and considered the importance of workplace culture and organisational factors, such as pay or financial security.
To make the research more relevant, resonant and responsive, Wellcome asked research teams to work alongside people with lived experience of mental health problems in the workplace at every stage of the commission. This is part of the commitment to expand their vision of mental health, as outlined in 2020.
The projects covered a wide range of approaches for supporting mental health including:
- arts interventions;
- support for shift workers to sleep better;
- maternity leave policies;
- approaches to tackling mental health stigma.
The resulting report details broad insights:
- There are things employers can do, based on the existing evidence, to improve the mental health of employees. For example, arts-based interventions were found to have a significant positive effect on anxiety, stress and organisational factors, such as job satisfaction.
- Context is critical for the effectiveness of approaches. For instance, having support from managers, participation and support from colleagues, and having wider organisational commitment to mental health.
- More robust data is needed to fill significant gaps in the evidence base. For example, how interventions work for different demographics within the workforce, in different types of workplaces.
While considerable progress has been made, there is still a lot that is unknown, as the report highlights. The current evidence gap is, in part, due to the lack of investment in mental health compared to other areas of health over the last forty years. Improving funding will accelerate mental health so it can ‘catch up’.
The full report includes research summaries from each of the 15 projects, detailing key findings and specific recommendations for research and practice across the intervention types.
Getting our systems, structures and incentives right to actively build our human and mental capital is a key way to supporting mental health and wellbeing sustainability. Health – both physical and mental – is created and protected largely outside healthcare. While many solutions include access to timely, high-quality, safe and effective treatment, it is important to recognise that community approaches to mental health are valuable.
Researchers, policy makers and businesses need to take a collaborative, evidence-based, systems approach to supporting mental health in, and beyond, the workplace.
Good job design, strong leadership and effective management are key factors in ensuring the best outcomes for both an organisation and its employees. Evidence shows that investing in employee wellbeing could improve performance, reduce staff turnover, and boost productivity and creativity.
Employers can explore our employer guidance and resources, and the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on mental health at work, to help plan and deliver evidence-informed programmes. They can also consider Campaign to End Loneliness’ bespoke, half-day Loneliness Learning Programme on understanding and addressing loneliness in the workplace, tailored to the needs of employees. Get in touch for more details.
Researchers, clinicians and funders can use the mental health research goals, derived from recommendations in the Framework for Mental Health Research. These form an agenda for the next decade, providing a shared view of the challenges and priorities. This can be supported by the use of consistent measurement approaches to assess the impact of support interventions on mental health outcomes.
Policy makers can focus on prevention by investing in early interventions, envisioning mental health as larger than healthcare, rather than ‘spending on failure’. Where there is evidence of what works, within and beyond the workplace, these insights should be implemented. This includes psychological therapies and Social & Emotional Learning in schools and other settings.