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04/11/2021 – Labour market, youth and welfare policies are key to addressing the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, according to a new OECD publication.
Fitter Minds, Fitter Jobs: From Awareness to Change in Integrated Mental Health, Skills and Work Policy says that mental health interventions often come too late for individuals with mental health conditions and remain confined to silos, meaning that people do not get the comprehensive help they need.
Yet the economic costs of poor mental health are more than 4.2% of GDP, and more than a third of this is due to lower employment rates and the impact on people’s productivity.
Even before the pandemic, individuals with mental health conditions were 20% less likely to be employed and were paid 17% less than their counterparts without mental health conditions. Data from European countries suggest that these gaps have not closed over the past five years while the gap in unemployment rates has continued to rise, showing that it is increasingly difficult for workers with mental health conditions to keep their job.
The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a sharp rise in levels of mental distress. A major cause has been the disruption to education and work caused by the pandemic. Countries will have to invest more in mental health and targeted support for those hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis, including young people and those who have experienced job or income loss.
Young people are reporting particularly high prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 crisis. Even before the crisis, young people indicating mental distress were 35% more likely to repeat a school grade and at increased risk of school dropout. Young people must be supported in completing education and navigating the school-to-work transition, and non-stigmatising and accessible mental health support must be urgently expanded.
OECD countries have shown commitment to promoting the mental health of young people over the past five years, recognising the benefits of early action. Many countries have dedicated mental health strategies for young people, and schools and teachers are playing a central role in promoting better mental health for students.
Workplace policies can play a sizeable role in promoting better mental health for all, and countries must strengthen mental health support for individuals on sick leave. Employers often have little incentive to look after the mental health of workers unable to work, leaving many workers with mental health conditions reliant on social benefits.
Labour market policies, welfare systems and employment services will play a large role in mitigating the mental health impacts of the labour market shock caused by the pandemic. Even before the crisis, mental health support was often limited to disability services and was not widely available in employment services. Combined employment and mental health support will be key for many unemployed people to improve employment prospects for those with mental health conditions and to tackle long-term unemployment.
Most OECD countries have now established a baseline level of awareness. The COVID-19 crisis has shed new light on the importance of mental health and presents a window of opportunity for a shift towards more integrated mental health policy, says the publication.
The full publication is available here. For further information, please contact Christopher Prinz and Shunta Takino