The incessant search for results, the tension over deadlines and the stress caused by hours spent in traffic on the way to and the way back from work are part of the routine for most workers. What few of them know—or pretend not to know—is that those factors can lead to or worsen a mental disorder, such as depression. In global statistics, the disease is listed among the three major causes of sick leave.

Source: Courtesy Antônio Geraldo da Silva

This sad state of affairs has called the attention of the Ministry of Health, which, for the first time, asked the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics to investigate the rate of depression among the employed. The survey, done among people of 18 years or more, showed that 6.2% of the workforce is afflicted by the disease.

This result only reinforces our concern with the worker’s mental health. Most of the time the employed, who every day have to deal with more demands on the job, fail to see what a stressful routine can do to their health in the medium and long term. Mental disorders are more common than most people imagine in the work environment, and are the third highest cause of sick leave, being surpassed only by traumatic injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.

In 2015 alone, the National Institute of Social Security (INSS) granted over 63,000 benefits for workers diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder. In the International Classification of Diseases, used as a database by the INSS, depression is at the top of the list of mental disorders that more often disable workers. Over 27,000 cases have been computed. In second place, with over 16,000 instances, are mental and behavioral disorders caused by the use of multiple drugs. Following that, comes sick leave due to mental disorders caused by the use of alcohol, with over 5,000 cases, and those caused by the use of cocaine, with over 2,000 cases.

Source: Rosylane Mercês Rocha

What we conclude from this scenario is that many people suffer in silence. They hide phobias, depression, anxiety disorders and, what is even worse, they do not seek help. Due to negligence or even due to the fear of being judged. All of that, of course, affects their work performance and, as a consequence, makes the situation even worse. It is important to mention that even those who are able to put their prejudices aside and seek specialized help are ashamed of their diagnosis and fear that they will be stigmatized as crazy, lazy, and liars. We need to change this reality.

The aggravation of mental disorders due to the pressures of the workplace, the fear of unemployment and the financial crises can lead the worker to a critical situation, such as suicide. To prevent that, the government needs to invest in mental health policies that are founded on scientific fact, and not on empty ideologies.

The absence of adequate prevention has consequences not only for workers and their families, but also for society at large due to the enormous costs that are generated, in particular due to the loss in productivity and the strain in social security systems. The International Labor Organization estimates that workplace accidents and work-related diseases result in an annual loss of 4% of the world’s GDP—around 2.8 billion dollars.        

Companies should, through well-trained managers, pay attention to the behavior of their employees. It is important to be able to distinguish, for example, if a person is unmotivated because of a specific problem at work if there is a personal characteristic. We need to learn how to really see the other person. A company’s occupational doctor has a fundamental role in the worker’s health, because they will be able to see early signs and symptoms of mental illness and recommend that the worker undergo the specialized evaluation of a psychiatrist. Likewise, programs for the prevention of workplace violence and chemical dependency need to be a part of the health routine of a company’s staff.

It is vital that anyone diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder follow their treatment correctly and that their employer supervise this process. Taking care of the worker’s mental health represents, in every respect, advantages for the worker themselves, for those who have hired him and for society as a whole.          

Antônio Geraldo da Silva is a psychiatrist and is the president of the Brazilian Association of Psychiatry (ABP)

Rosylane Mercês Rocha is Occupational Health Physician and the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) Brazilian National Secretary

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