Mental health, sometimes also referred to as psychological health, has many aspects and is conceived in diverse ways.
It is decisive for the individual’s mental health that the demands made on them and the resources they possess should be in balance. If a person is able to manage the demands they face successfully by drawing on the resources at their disposal, this contributes to their mental health. Conversely, a permanent imbalance between demands and resources can result in the impairment or destabilisation of someone’s mental health. Mental health is therefore intimately connected with functioning and workability in important areas of life.
Human-centred work is an important precondition for mental health. An activity is regarded as human-centred if it does not impair the worker’s physical and mental health, well-being, and performance, is appropriate to their current level of qualification, and allows them to develop their individual potential and competencies (German Ergonomics Society (Gesellschaft für Arbeitswissenschaft, GfA), 1999).
This aspiration is only attainable if the actors have a comprehensive grasp of what is known about mental workloads and are able to build on it to devise practical options for work design.
Mental recovery strategies
The starting point for the practical guidance document on mental recovery published by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, BAuA) is how personal (behavioural) measures can complement work-related (situational) measures. It is intended to help individuals learn mental recovery strategies and is aimed equally at managers, human resources specialists, and employees. Fundamental concepts and the underlying mechanisms of mental recovery are explained and supplemented with recommendations informed by the research done into the topic. Example exercises give the reader chances to try out what they have learned. Mental Recovery from Work: Learning to Switch Off (in German)
Mental health research at BAuA
In the field of mental health, BAuA conducts studies into the factors that influence outcomes, preventive measures, and return-to-work processes after mental crises. A selection of the topics related to mental health that BAuA is currently researching are introduced below.
Longitudinal mental health study
The Study on Mental Health at Work (Studie zur mentalen Gesundheit bei der Arbeit, S-MGA) is a longitudinal project based on a representative sample of employees who pay compulsory social security contributions. In this study, we are not only examining variables connected with work and employment that influence (mental) health and workability/functioning, but also factors that help people stay in employment.
Time pressure, pressure to perform, and information overload
Preventive work design has the aims of protecting and promoting employees’ mental health. The research priorities here include the preventive design of recovery processes and rest breaks, as well as the handling of time pressure, pressure to perform, and information overload.
Appropriate preventive measures
In Germany, organisations have a statutory obligation to take account of the risks caused by mental workloads in their workplace occupational safety and health (OSH) provision and implement suitable risk mitigation measures. Our research contributes to the continuing development of appropriate recommendations for workplace practice.
In our neurophysiological studies, we look at cognitive performance and mental strain among workers subject to different work requirements. We make use of innovative developments in medical technology and complex signal processing for our research in this area.
Interventions in mental crises
Apart from this, we study early interventions in mental crises with an emphasis on the structuring of psychosomatic and psychotherapeutic consultations in the workplace. The aim is to prevent mental illnesses among employees or diagnose them at an early stage.
Returning to work after a mental crisis
Mental disorders increase the risk of becoming unemployed and taking early retirement. We are therefore running several projects intended to explore what makes the return-to-work process successful following a mental crisis.
Work-related (situational) measures (e.g. easing time pressure by altering how work tasks are allocated) can be complemented meaningfully with personal (behavioural) measures (e.g. enhancing individuals’ capacity for recovery).
Seminal publication on mental health
A groundbreaking article published in 2010 discusses concepts of mental health, as well as links between phenomena such as functioning, workability, and mental health that had been looked at in isolation until then.