The mental health of workers in Europe is worsening. People in this country suffer the most

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According to a new six-country European survey, 38 per cent of workers are at high risk of poor mental health. But what can organisations do to tackle this?

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Between inflation, the cost of living crisis, and the overall geopolitical situation, there are plenty of reasons to be in a grim mood. But it seems that we’re most anxious about our futures when at work.

A newly published survey from a health services and technologies provider Telus Health has found that the mental health of people in six European countries is increasingly at risk.

Overall, workers’ mental health has declined in four countries – Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain – by October 2023 compared to April, with 38 per cent of workers overall saying they were at high risk of poor mental health.

Mental Health Index (MHI) scores in France and Poland, on the other hand, had marginally improved over the same six-month period but Poland continues to have the lowest score with 55.5.

“From other data, we believe this is the impact of the increased sensitivity to stress post-pandemic. This increased sensitivity makes it more likely that stressors will have a greater negative emotional impact,” Paula Allen, Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Well-being at Telus Health, told Euronews Next.

According to the study’s findings, 35 per cent of respondents said they were more sensitive to stress than before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“It also makes people more angry, cynical, and prone to conflict, which means that people are creating more stressors for each other,” Allen added.

When it comes to mental health-related conditions, 17 per cent of the workers reported being diagnosed with anxiety – the most prevalent diagnosed condition amongst European workers – while 12 per cent reported having received a depression diagnosis.

The study also found that employees below the age of 40 are twice as likely as those aged 50 and above to disclose instances of both diagnosed and undiagnosed anxiety and depression.

Additionally, this younger demographic is twice as inclined to use health benefits for psychological services and holds a greater appreciation for psychological benefits.

Gender also plays a part with women having a mental health score 5 points lower compared to men in the survey.

Allen explained this through the persistent gender gap when it comes to care and domestic tasks as well as the different social expectations. 

Poland is the worst country

Poland continues to be the worst country out of the six surveyed, having improved by half a percentage point since April but still nearly six points below the overall MHI score of 61.1.

Of those surveyed, 51 per cent of workers in the Eastern European country said they were anxious (the same as Spain), with 43 per cent saying they were depressed – the highest of the six countries.

Poland also had one of the highest percentages of respondents saying they were not optimistic for the future (23 per cent), second only to Italy at 29 per cent.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Netherlands recorded the best MHI score with 69.0, nearly eight points higher than the overall score.

According to those surveyed, 28 per cent said they were feeling anxious and 18 per cent depressed, the lowest figures for each category in the six-country study.

The most noteworthy statistic from the Netherlands was that 29 per cent of workers thought their mental health was negatively impacting their productivity.

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Financial security associated with better mental health

Unsurprisingly, a worker’s financial situation is correlated to his or her mental health with people earning less than €10,000 annually getting the worst score regarding their mental wellbeing.

Along the same line, workers without emergency savings showed a significantly lower MHI score (41) than the overall group (61), according to the study’s findings.

Moreover, in the last two surveys, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and workers in small companies (less than 50 people) displayed the worst score.

Financial security is one of the elements that helps to explain the Netherlands’ high score.

“Typically, the Netherlands has fewer people at the top end and bottom end of many scales that relate to the quality of life, but it averages higher,” said Allen.

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What can be done?

The companies also are impacted by the workers’ poor mental health. People impacted by work-related stress lose over 60 days of productivity, according to Telus Health.

In March, the British Psychological Society went as far as calling work-related stress “a modern epidemic” due to the amount of burnout cases.

“This is important for all business requirements, and increasingly for the requirements such as innovation, collaborative problem solving and customer service. It is also important for retention and company reputation,” Allen said.

More than half of office workers in the survey (51 per cent) would favour a traditional five-day work week coupled with the flexibility to work remotely whenever desired.

On the other hand, 49 per cent would opt for a condensed four-day work week within the office environment, according to Telus Health’s data.

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The American Psychiatric Association offers different tips for organisations to tackle stress in the workplace.

Companies can also provide support with an employee assistance program (EAP) and psychological safety in the workplace, Allen concluded.

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