Work as a Social Determinant of Mental Health & Wellbeing
Work is a major social and modifiable determinant of health—both for better and for worse.
In our upcoming presentation at the 2019 Workplace Mental Health Symposium, we will focus on work and its relationship with mental health & wellbeing. Work positively affects mental health in various ways: work is most people’s primary source of income, and serves as a key source of self-efficacy and social connections.
It also provides purpose, belonging, and time structure. Various aspects of work can also be harmful to mental health & wellbeing. Psychosocial job stressors are particularly important. Examples include various types of job demands (physical, psychological, emotional), the level of control you have over how you do your work, and job security.
Exposure to job stressors predicts increased risks of a range of mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and suicide mortality. For many job stressors, exposure also predicts lower levels of mental wellbeing. These is dynamic interplay of various aspects of work and mental health. For example, high levels of workplace social support and individual positive mental health act as buffers against the adverse impacts of job stressors.
Further, being in work is generally better for mental health than being unemployed; however, jobs that entail exposure to multiple stressors are more harmful to mental health than being unemployed.
So what can we do to improve workplace mental health & wellbeing? An ‘integrated approach to workplace mental health’ as we define it, acknowledges that mental health is shaped by both work-related and non-work-related influences.
Taking an integrated approach entails:
1) protecting mental health by reducing work-related risk factors
2) promoting mental health by developing the positive aspects of work as well as worker strengths and positive capacities, and
3) responding to mental health problems as they manifest in the workplace regardless of cause.
Each of these areas of activity are essential and complementary.
Prof Tony LaMontagne, School of Health & Social Development, Institute for Health Transformation, Deakin University