Mental stresses and illnesses

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[edit] Introduction

Generally speaking, mental stresses are the totality of all assessable influences impinging on a human being and affecting it mentally. These stresses are not only found in the working environment; they can also occur within the family or at school, for example. Mental stresses at work are influences deriving from the working environment, work organisation, equipment, tasks and the workplace (working conditions). The perceived mental strain resulting from these stresses can vary widely from employee to employee.

In accordance with standard DIN EN ISO 10075, mental stresses are initially neutral, as they can produce desirable effects, such as stimulus and activation, as well as detrimental effects such as mental fatigue and mental satiation.

[edit] Facts

Without mental stress, people would not grow and develop. The elimination of all mental stresses is as undesirable as it would be impossible. They can result in stress of which there are two kinds: negative stress, which is experienced as unpleasant, threatening and overwhelming, and positive stress, which is indispensable to life and helps keep workers alert and able to work. Where stress is experienced negatively over the long term, corrective measures should be implemented. In many areas, work can optimised to mitigate stress.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) divides workplace stress into stress directly accompanying the work itself (working hours, tasks, etc.), and stress resulting from the wider work context (such as social relationships).

The Health and Food Safety Office of the Land of Bavaria names four main drivers of stress reactions: 1. the task itself (e.g. time and deadline pressure) 2. the environment (e.g. noise, ergonomic deficiencies) 3. company organisation (e.g. structural changes) 4. social relationships (e.g. poor working climate, conflict in working relationships).

Mental stresses, defined as causes deriving from working conditions, can be experienced differently from person to person. The resultant mental strains may differ for each person.

Central measures against undesirable and increasing mental stresses principally concern improvements in working conditions, workplace design, work organisation and leadership. Employees should receive training in developing strategies for avoiding and reducing stress. Involving employees in decision-making processes and building and maintaining a positive climate within the company can also limit stress.

Chronic stress can lead to mental illness. The most common forms of mental illness include depression, burnout, anxiety disorders, psychosomatic illness and addiction. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, mental health problems will be the second biggest cause of illness (after cardiovascular disease).

Increasing rates of mental illness also have a significant impact in the working world. According to the Barmer GEK Health Report for 2009, the proportion of absences from work resulting from psychological and behavioural disorders increased by 51% between 2004 and 2009. Rates among those in academic and managerial positions are above average. The cost of mental illness in Germany is just under 27 billion euro per year; lost output totals around 4 billion. Mental illness in older workers between the ages of 60 and 64 lasts almost twice as long as in those at the beginning of their careers. Sufferers miss around 50 days’ work per year on average. In 2009, 32% of men and 44% of women entering retirement did so early due to mental illness.

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