All is not well

The economic burden of mental ill-health in Malta could exceed €776 million annually.

Poor mental wellness related to work, including stress and anxiety, seems to be the order of the day in modern society.  According to a recent ‘Well-being at the Workplace’ survey carried out by research firm Misco, 86% of respondents stated that they have experienced poor wellness.

A first study of this kind was conducted in 2020, just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Misco’s Nadine Cilia notes how, in 2021, when employees should have been more stressed and anxious due to the pandemic, only 63% had reported experiencing poor mental wellness due to work.  In the following year, the percentage had risen to 79% of respondents, dipping to 77% last year, before rising again.

Stress remains a prevalent issue among respondents of the survey, with a disturbing consistent increase over the years. This year, more respondents (52%)  stated that their stress level is poor to very poor, a slight increase when compared to the 49% obtained in 2023, confirming an overall increasing trend over the years with 47% recorded in 2022 and 45% in 2021.

So, why are the statistics going higher rather than lower?   It seems that one of the answers is that 60% of employees who experienced stress and anxiety still did not dedicate time to unwind from work.  When asked why this is the case, 71% stated that they “do not see the need for it”  ̶   rather a contradiction, I would say.

Another possible answer is that 52% of respondents reported working more than 40 hours a week, a slight increase from the 49% reported in the previous year.  The data suggests a potential association between mental well-being at the workplace and the number of working hours.

The average person spends more time working than any other daily activity of life and, over a lifetime, an average of 90,000 hours on the job.  The workplace, therefore, is an important setting, not only for health protection   ̶   to prevent occupational injury   ̶   but also health promotion   ̶  to improve overall health and well-being.

Although there are no specific studies estimating the economic burden of mental health in Malta, extrapolations using the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates from other countries suggest that direct and indirect costs of mental ill-health can amount to 4% of the gross domestic product (GDP), with one fifth of persons of working age experiencing mild to moderate mental disorders. Applying OECD estimates to Malta’s GDP in 2023 indicates that the economic burden of mental ill-health in Malta could exceed €776 million annually.

The concept of the healthy workplace is not new, but it has indeed changed, evolving from a nearly exclusive focus on occupational health and safety (managing the physical, chemical, biological, and ergonomic hazards of the workplace) to include work organisation, workplace culture, lifestyle, and the community, all of which can profoundly influence worker health. Today’s healthy workplace includes both health protection and promotion. 

In a recent survey, MISCO found that 48% of employers in Malta offer flexible work-life balance hours while 34% of them offer some kind of assistance and therapy programmes.  Those who have taken a healthy lifestyle initiative number 19%, and another 13% have mental health first-aiders or train their managers in supporting people with mental health problems.

That’s not too bad, but obviously more can be done.  A number of employers, including some government ministries, organise social and well-being activities for their employees.  Feedback from such initiatives, which I myself have attended from time to time, is quite positive.  I think, though, that such initiatives and others need to be structured into an annual programme which includes a recurring daily activity   ̶   even if for half-an-hour a day   ̶   and address different aspects of wellness and mental wellbeing.

Photo: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

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