Mental health risks at work

Mental health risks at work and priorities for action

Mental health in the workplace is the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day. Triora looks at the risk factors for developing an addiction including the risks to mental health at work.

Facts and figures on mental illness at work:

  • Globally, one in four adults will experience mental health problems and one in five in the workplace.
  • In the UK in 2015, one in six of the UK workforce experienced mental health problems.
  • Mental health problems are the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.
  • Only around a quarter of people with a mental health condition in the UK receive ongoing treatment.
  • 10% of people employed have taken time off work for depression.
  • 67% of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer.
  • 86% of all respondents in one survey believed that their job and being at work were important to protecting and maintaining their mental health. (1)

What is the relationship between depression, anxiety and addiction?

  • Depressive and anxiety disorders are two categories of mental disorders which frequently co-occur with addiction.
  • The number of people with these disorders is increasing.
  • In 2015, the total number of people globally with depression was estimated to be 322 million - 4.4% of the world’s population.
  • The number suffering from anxiety disorder is over 260 million (3.5% of the global population).
  • Many people have both conditions.
  • An addiction increases the likelihood of becoming depressed or developing other mental health problems, such as anxiety, bipolar and personality disorders or schizophrenia.

What are the risk factors for developing an addiction?

  • Addiction is medically recognised as a chronic, progressive mental disease.
  • Many factors make one person more vulnerable to developing an addiction than another.
  • Genetic factors can predispose someone to developing an addiction.
  • A person’s social or working environment can also play a role.

Once someone has developed an addiction, they will remain addicted for the rest of their lives. Alcoholism for example, is a chronic disease. It could develop from work-related stress leading to a burnout or depression, but once the burnout or depression has been cured, the addiction remains, underlining the need for a supportive working environment.

Mental health risks at work and priorities for action

11 risks to mental health at work

Work is a key factor in supporting and protecting mental health. However, a negative working environment can itself cause physical and mental health problems, and lead to harmful use of substances or alcohol. The resulting costs to the employer from absenteeism, presenteeism (persistently working longer hours for fear of losing one’s job), reduced productivity and staff turnover are significant. Common risks to mental health in the workplace include:

  1. Unclear or unsuitable tasks
  2. Unrealistic objectives
  3. High and unrelenting workload
  4. Little control over one’s area of work
  5. Inflexible working hours
  6. Lack of team spirit
  7. Lack of employee support
  8. Limited participation in decision-making
  9. Inadequate health and safety policies
  10. Poor communication and management practices
  11. Bullying and psychological harassment.

3 top priorities for action 

There is a growing recognition of the importance of good mental health and wellbeing at work, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense. Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.

A workplace mental health and wellbeing survey conducted in the UK identified 3 top priorities for action (1):

  1. Develop a working culture that promotes mental health;
  2. A clear commitment from senior leadership to support mental health and wellbeing in the company; and
  3. Implement clear mental health policies within the company at all levels.

More information for professionals

Visit our professionals section. Find out more about addiction in the workplace and 6 steps to address addiction at work.

Mental health in the workplace, WHO information sheet, September 2017

World Mental Health Day 2017 report (pdf)

Added value: mental health as a workplace asset, (pdf) Unum and Mental Health Foundation in the UK.

Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders, (pdf) Global Health Estimates, WHO

(1) A workplace mental health and wellbeing survey commissioned from YouGov by Unum and Mental Health Foundation combining a sample of around 1,000 people who have self-defined as having mental health problems, with a further sample of around 1,000 people with line management responsibilities.



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