Policymakers must do more to address depression, argues MEP

Angelika Werthmann explains why EU policymakers must 'take the lead' in reducing the impact of depression in the workplace.

By Angelika Werthmann

10 Apr 2014

Depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide, is one of the major challenges that occupational health and safety legislation will have to overcome in the future. Throughout Europe, an estimated one of every 10 working people takes time off every year because of depression. Costs due to mental ill health are estimated to rise up to 3-4.5 per cent of the European Union's GDP, with depression alone costing Europe's businesses almost €100bn per year in loss of productivity due to, for example, sick leave and early retirement. Mental health problems at the workplace are high and even increasing because of a changing world of work. According to Irene Houtman, representing the EU joint action on mental health and well-being, "Depression is the major diagnosis for these mental health problems".

The current mental health policy framework needs a critical evaluation. Data needs to be used more efficiently and notions must be clarified for a better understanding and increased awareness of issues. Innovative thinking and acting are imperative, and there is significant need and room for education amongst stakeholders. A number of businesses and private companies began to recognise the impact promoting good mental health in the workplace has on the business as a whole. Amelia Mustapha, from the European depression association, highlights that "the employee/employer relationship provides a unique opportunity to address depression in the workplace".  Employers need educating about the disease in order to successfully manage their workforce's mental health. When this happens, people with depression can lead productive lives and make valuable contributions to society as a whole. 

We, as European policymakers, must take the lead and attempt to reduce the impact depression has in the workplace. We call on the next European commission to take forward the recommendations on addressing depression in the workplace. Through employment policy and legislation, the European Union and its member states can ensure the protection of workers from depression and that businesses can ultimately improve their productivity and bottom line. The inclusion of depression in the forthcoming EU strategy on health and safety is the first concrete action for the next European parliament to reduce the burden of this devastating disease.