The Complex Relationship Between Work And Mental Health

The job is the only way to procure basic needs long – term it has in the current economic system the overwhelming majority of the world population, and therefore becomes, in itself, a necessity.

Occupying such a central place in our survival and such an extensive amount of time (for most people, about a third or more of the day to day), it is not surprising that both his absence and he himself exerts an influence. force majeure when it comes to our mental health. Examining both sides of the problem can offer us keys to establishing healthier relationships with work as individuals and as a society.

“The health effects of unemployment are inevitable”
” Unemployment negatively affects the manifest functions of work (security, economic function, basic vital needs) and the latent ones (social integration, feeling of usefulness, identity, self-esteem, social belonging, status, structuring of time, etc.)” , explains to 20Minutos Carlos María Alcover, professor of Psychology of Groups and Organizations at the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid:

“Consequently, its effects on mental (and physical) health are practically inevitable: anxiety, depressive symptoms, concern for the future, uncertainty and feelings of lack of control, decreased self-esteem and self-efficacy, sleep problems, irritability (with the consequent deterioration of interpersonal and family relationships), etc. “.

Between one job and another, women spend on average 3 months more unemployed than men
“It is noteworthy that hopelessness about the future, accentuated during the pandemic, can lead to a greater extent to suicidal ideations, suicide attempts and completed suicides ,” he adds.

Logically, the problem of unemployment does not affect everyone equally, but there are many people who, due to their vital circumstances, may be especially vulnerable to it: “If the unemployed person is the only source of family income , its negative effect is much greater. “, Alcover exemplifies.

“Hopelessness about the future leads to suicidal ideations, suicide attempts and completed suicides”
Similarly, “if it is someone over 45, the probability of finding a job is significantly lower than at other ages; to which is added the permissiveness of the system with ‘illegal’ early retirements , which force these groups of workers to accept these exits against their will in many cases and discourage the search for employment or senior entrepreneurship, “he continues.

On the contrary, “the impact is different for a young person, since they can still count on the family’s support network (very important in our culture), they can have less or no family burden, and part-time or precarious work options that allow them to enter the job market, even if it is still very precarious “.

“Circumstances that can increase the risk of suffering from mental problems,” he continues, “are related both to personal characteristics (ineffective coping strategies, poorer social skills, lower resilience, pessimism and fatalism) and to contextual factors (employment opportunities in immediate context, rural / urban environment, general unemployment levels …) “.

“Anyone is subject to occupational psychosocial risks”
The opposite situation, as we pointed out, having a job is not a panacea to protect our psychological well-being. In fact, there are many psychosocial risks that are associated with it, according to Alcover: “they are those derived from the organization, design and work management, performance standards and compliance objectives, as well as the context social, organizational and relational that have a potential for harm or negative consequences for workers “, he specifies.

What are anxiety disorders? These are its causes, its symptoms and its treatment
“In addition, psychosocial risks are also associated with workplace violence , bullying and other forms of harassment and harassment, including sexual harassment, ” he adds.

As in the case of unemployment, the way in which they affect a specific person is conditioned by multiple factors: “their impacts on well-being and health are not homogeneous , that is, they do not affect in the same way or with the same intensity to the people who are subjected to them, since the perception, interpretation and subjective experience and the interaction of these factors with the characteristics and situations of each person will cause different effects “.

“Consequently,” he adds, “anyone, whatever their hierarchical level, may be subject to these risks and their consequences.”

“Health resources in mental health are insufficient”
Acting in these situations, from the point of view of the worker who suffers them, can be complicated: “In addition to the services and committees for the prevention of risks and health and safety of the companies, which should address these problems, also the services of Mental health in primary care should be accessible to treat these problems “, explains this expert, who nevertheless clarifies:” The great difficulty is that these health resources in mental health are completely insufficient. In addition, primary care and mutuals are very reluctant to treat them as occupational diseases , and consider them a common disease. “

“Mental health at work is just as important as physical health , and it should neither be stigmatized nor a hindrance to a greater extent than any other health problem,” he laments.

“Most of these problems have no individual cause”
In addition, the difficulty is added that, these health problems depend on factors external to the person , which most of the time do not depend on their control.

In the case of those who suffer problems derived from unemployment, Alcover develops, “these problems tend to disappear quickly when they return to work; that is, they are not problems that become chronic, but are only associated with the specific situation .” Therefore, the greater the structural difficulty in finding a job, the greater the difficulty in solving these problems.

Patient with psychiatric illness.
What leads us to hurt ourselves: what is behind some psychiatric disorders
Instead, he says, “the data tell us that job insecurity tends to have even more negative consequences than unemployment, since it places people in a position of uncertainty, fear, anxiety or anguish, in the face of an uncertain future. or probable, but before which he cannot do much , except wait and fear. “

“Most mental health problems at work do not have an ‘individual’ cause, these problems should not be ‘psychologized’ , ” he argues, “but rather identify their true origin, which is usually found in the work context: excessive work demands, lack of resources, lack of support from the organization and supervisors, inadequate leadership (authoritarian, abusive, harassing), precariousness, and especially, something increasingly frequent, the feeling of job insecurity, both quantitative ( fear of being fired) and qualitative (worsening working conditions, even if the job is not lost) “.

“The true origin of mental health problems at work is found in the context of work”
“Consequently, the measures are not so much individual as the company and the context, who must reduce or eliminate those negative working conditions that cause problems in workers,” he defends.

“Blaming people with these problems is unfair and wrong”
For all these reasons, and since it is a problem of such eminently social dimensions, the means to combat this problem often go through the sphere of politics rather than that of the clinic.

In Alcover’s opinion, “Unemployed people should have public resources (support systems, counseling, training, etc.) that are more effective than the current ones to face this situation and have more capacity to find employment.”

ERTE and vacations.
60% of workers see their mental health at risk after a year of pandemic
“And it is necessary to avoid that they adopt a” passive “role (” wait for them to call me “), which generates external dependency, the belief in” luck “, the feeling of helplessness …”.

Similarly, to combat mental health problems at work, the expert points out, “the changes are obvious: avoid and prevent working conditions from becoming increasingly precarious , demanding, demanding, abusive and exploitative on the part of organizations, both private and public. “

Also, Alcover believes that a change in perception about the nature of this kind of problems is necessary, for which the role of the media stands out: “I think it is very important that they avoid transmitting to the public that mental problems derived from Work are ‘individual’ problems, whose origin is in the ‘personality’, the ‘weakness’ or the characteristics of the people “.

“In the vast majority of cases, their origin is external : people’s ‘vulnerability’ is socially constructed by the structures and conditions in which they work and live,” he continues. “Blaming and stigmatizing people with mental problems derived from work is, in addition to being unfair, incorrect and false , the worst thing that can be done, since it is the interpretation and” explanation “used by those who defend that nothing has to change or to improve in companies and in the world of work, and that it is people who have to adapt to ‘what is there’ “.

“For example, being resilient is fine, but be careful, people should not be required to be resilient in any work situation, especially unfair, abusive or exploitative ones, ” he concludes.