Belgium should be more proactive in tackling mental health issues in the workplace, says OECD


29/01/2013 - Belgian companies, mutualities and employment services should be more proactive in helping people with mental health problems stay in the workplace or find a job, according to a new OECD report.

Mental Health and Work: Belgium says that one in three unemployed people have a severe or moderate mental disorder. The OECD estimates that the total costs of mental health issues for the Belgian economy and society are around 3.4% of GDP per year in lost employment and healthcare spending.


Four in five workers with a mental disorder struggle at work and sick leave is frequent among workers with mental health problems. Disability claims based on mental ill-health are rising. Young people account for the largest increase, with nearly half of new disability claims by people aged 20-39 in 2010 being for mental health  problems, compared to 20% among people aged 50-64.


“Belgium should build on its institutional strengths to address more effectively the challenges of mental ill-health and work,” said Yves Leterme at the launch of the report in Brussels. “The costs to society and the economy are rising in Belgium, as in other countries, and urgent action now is needed to help people with mental health issues stay in work or find a job.”


The national labour legislation also has a strong focus on the prevention of mental ill-health at work and the integrated sickness and disability benefit system provides ideal conditions for monitoring, early intervention and effective return-to-work.


But the report concludes that overall the system is poorly implemented and too reactive. Employers, occupational health services, and mutualities need to be more proactive and improve their co-operation.


Belgians with mental illness who lose their job typically stay on unemployment benefit for a very long time , and they have less incentives than in most OECD countries to move onto disability benefit. The advantage is that they stay in regular touch with the employment services which could facilitate their reintegration into the labour force. But the public employment services must pay more attention to the needs of people with mental health problems in order to improve results.


Pilot projects run by the employment services since 2009 in cooperation with the health and welfare sector are promising, says the OECD. The report recommends expanding these programmes to all regions, together with a legal framework and systematic co-financing mechanisms in order to improve the participation of beneficiaries of the disability and social welfare systems.


The OECD recommends that the authorities:


-          Rigorously implement and monitor employers’ obligations with respect to psychosocial problems and increase sanctions for non-compliance.

-          Systematically involve occupational health specialists in the retention and reintegration of sick employees.

-          Systematise the co-operation between mutualities and public employment services.

-          Develop employment-oriented mental health care and experiment with ways to integrate health and employment services.

-          Further integrate children and students with special needs in mainstream education and improve the transition to employment.


For further information, journalists should contact Veerle Miranda, OECD Policy Analyst (tel. + 33 1 45 24 18 73).


For a copy of the report, journalists should contact the OECD Media Division at


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