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Workplace Mental Health: 2019 in Review

As we launch into the new decade, it is important that we reflect on the monumental year we are leaving behind and the milestones we achieved as the workplace mental health movement charges forward. In fact, it is worth celebrating an entire decade of work by advocates, researchers, and workplace leaders to establish a foundation of understanding and awareness that is clearly accelerating progress as we move into 2020.

In the past year, mental health clearly established itself as an emerging global priority – industry-specific risk was examined; city-based workplace wellness initiatives began to proactively include mental health, and burnout and suicide have entered mainstream public discourse as critical workplace issues. Below is a recap of only a few of the key moments from 2019 that will act as stepping-stones and guide priorities in the next year:


Global Leaders Champion Mental Health at Davos

Nearly a year ago to date, mental health was featured prominently at the 2019 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The “Mental Health Matters” discussion track included prominent international figures like Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and John Flint, CEO of HSBC. The panel addressed the need for the global community to promote mental health across all facets of society, including the workplace.

New Survey Illuminates Mental Health Issues in the PR Industry

The PR industry is known for its high-pressure environment of long hours, tight deadlines, and stress-inducing (even bullying) managers, and a survey released in early 2019 uncovered insightful, industry-specific mental health statistics. The survey demonstrated the importance of executive leadership on the issue, especially in high-stress industries, and that simply communicating benefits and opening up the conversation can help employees feel that their mental wellbeing is considered a priority.

Today In: Leadership


The World Health Organization officially recognizes workplace ‘burnout’ as an occupational phenomenon

In May 2019, the WHO upgraded its classification of workplace burnout from a “state of exhaustion” to a “syndrome” resulting from “chronic workplace stress.” The organization said that burnout is classified by 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.


New case study: City of St. Paul Workplace Mental Health and Wellness Initiative

With at least one suicide occurring every year in one of the departments of the City of St. Paul, the Healthy St. Paul Committee started to shift its focus to mental health issues, not just physical health conditions like diabetes and obesity. Partnering with a resilience training firm, the city ramped up training for supervisors in using the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and implemented stress and anxiety resilience training for its workers. Recently, Healthy KC in Kansas City has been similarly proactive in including mental health in their workplace wellness initiatives.


Stress and rigorous work schedules push a doctor to commit suicide every day in the US

Dr. Edward Ellison, executive medical director and chairman of Southern California Permanente Medical Group, said that U.S. doctors are “stressed to the point of breaking” and struggle with the highest suicide rates among any profession in the U.S. Forty-four percent of doctors experience burnout, and they are much more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Ellison says that fundamental changes are needed in the medical system to reduce the stigma for seeking help and to heighten mental health awareness. Patients can also help doctors by giving them small gestures of appreciation.

Suicide prevention in the workplace

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and last year, a consortium of organizations launched national guidelines for suicide prevention, accessible at www.workplacesuicideprevention.com. Employers across industries are beginning to respond to this crisis. In mid-September, the TSA announced the launch of an intervention to train workers to recognize and appropriately respond to warning signs, while the Air Force implemented a mandatory “stand-down” at bases around the world to discuss mental health issues. Meanwhile, a suicide at Facebook on September 27th brought the issue to the forefront of the technology sector, while rising rates of suicide among constructions workers in the U.K. are prompting action across the pond.

In the last decade, together we increased awareness of mental health issues in the workplace and in society, and without a doubt, more people than ever before feel empowered to discuss mental health openly—but that is only the first step toward bringing an end to the global mental health crisis. Even though we still have a long way to go, we are well-positioned to build on our momentum and implement lasting change in 2020 and beyond.