October 10th 2017 is the 25th World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme, as set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is mental health in the workplace. In this blog we take a look at a selection of the mental health studies registered at the ISRCTN registry that specifically address this growing area of research.
Struggling with stress
Work-related stress is one of the major reasons for people taking sick leave from work, and can cause people to develop problems with sleep, memory, and concentration. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a commonly used talking therapy that can help people manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. A CBT-based treatment and a brief workplace intervention were tested in this Danish study and although participants’ symptoms reduced over time, in this instance there was no significant treatment effect.
Mindfulness- and CBT-based courses could be used to improve NHS staff stress and wellbeing.
Mental health issues can affect people in all lines of work, and there are many studies targeting people in specific jobs. In the UK the 2016 NHS Staff Survey found that 37% of staff reported feeling unwell due to work-related stress and pressure, and the cost of sickness absence in the NHS has been estimated at £2.4 billion a year, or 2.5% of the entire NHS budget. In response, this study is currently testing whether mindfulness- and CBT-based courses could be used to improve NHS staff stress and wellbeing.
National surveys have also highlighted that work–life balance is poor among Danish school teachers, and that they report more depression compared to other job groups. The BALANCE project aimed to address this issue through a tailored intervention programme. This programme included a stress management course and also involved adjusting job demands, developing an inclusive and supportive culture, and reducing the stigmatization of employees with mental health issues.
As well as treating mental health issues, it is also important to improve mental health literacy – knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management and prevention. A study at a police department in Australia (registered at ISRCTN, protocol in BMC Psychiatry) investigated whether improved leadership skills and mental health literacy lead to an improvement in working conditions.
Balancing paid work and unpaid caregiving work can also negatively affect caregivers’ mental health, so a study at McMaster University (Canada) is testing whether caregiver-friendly workplace policies can improve their health and wellbeing.
The results of studies such as these will help employers to improve their support for employees.
There are also ongoing studies that aim to directly help employees with digital interventions. Just-in-time interventions provided via mobile devices (or to put it more simply, text messages) are currently being tested in two studies to see whether they can enhance assertiveness and reduce stress among adolescent apprentices at workplaces in Switzerland.
Apps and websites can also be used to help manage stress, such as the Healthy Mind app developed by the University of Southampton (UK) and Palo Alto University (USA). This app provides a range of tools from mindfulness therapy and CBT, and uses machine learning algorithms (artificial intelligence) to decide the best time to send messages according to the time of day, physical activity or where the user is at that time. However, a study in UK workplaces found that these intelligent notifications did not increase usage of the app.
Exercise is not only important for physical health but also for mental wellbeing. The Walks4Work study looked at whether getting people to walk during their lunchtime in either a natural or built environment could decrease workplace stress (protocol in BMC Public Health). Although the results showed no effects on resting heart rate and responses to stress, self-reported mental health did improve for the natural environment walking group.
And finally, the AWSOM study at Curtin University (Australia) looked at whether teaching employees a new dance move each day and then meeting up once a week to dance the week’s choreography together improves their physical and mental well-being and group bonding.
The take home message
The Mental Health Foundation is passionate about the power of research to create change in people’s lives, communities, and workplaces. If you want to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation and raise awareness of mental health, why not arrange a Tea & Talk event in your workplace this October 10th?