Mental health and how to maintain it over the long term
Protecting mental health has a high priority in the contemporary world of work. With its research activities, BAuA contributes to the objectification of public and policy discussions about this goal. It provides evidence-based findings on the work-related factors that influence mental health, as well as initiates further research. As a departmental research institution within the jurisdiction of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, BAuA is also contributing to the “Mental Health Offensive” (Offensive Psychische Gesundheit).
The increased attention currently being paid to mental workload in the world of work is attributable to a variety of developments. Firstly, the number of people being diagnosed with mental disorders is going up. This is shown by statistics on sickness absence and disability pensions. Secondly, the psychosocial demands that workers are exposed to have changed as work evolves. For instance, knowledge work is becoming more widespread and entails increasingly high cognitive challenges due to the growing quantities of information being generated by the advance of digitalisation. The proportion of the population employed in the service sector is rising too: more and more people are carrying out tasks that impose high emotional demands and having to interact with customers or patients in their day-to-day work.
At a time when SARS-CoV-2 is dominating the headlines, workers’ mental workload has come to be a topic of even greater significance due to the profound changes being driven by the pandemic, including those that affect the organisation of work, working time patterns, and the ways employees communicate and cooperate. It is consequently one of the issues dealt with in the SARS-CoV-2 occupational safety and health rule (SARS-CoV-2-Arbeitsschutzregel).
Against this background, the “Mental Health Offensive” launched jointly by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, BMAS), the Federal Ministry of Health (Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, BMG), and the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ) is addressing a highly topical matter. The Offensive is intended to develop an inter-ministerial mental health strategy that takes account of the various aspects of individuals’ areas of life and how they interact. As one of the first organisations to be involved, BAuA is actively taking part in the Offensive and feeding its research findings into the efforts that are being made.
BAuA previously drew together the knowledge available about the work-related factors that influence mental health in its project “Mental health in the working world - determining the current state of scientific evidence”. The gaps identified in what was known about the subject prompted the initiation of a whole series of practically oriented research projects, for example on the effects of rest breaks and healthy leadership.
Apart from this, with its research focus on mental health and cognitive performance, BAuA has devoted itself to finding out which factors impair mental health in the world of work, as well as what resources and other protective factors promote mental health and cognitive performance today, and will continue to deliver benefits in future.
Furthermore, BAuA provides information about preventive work design. Human-centred approaches to designing work help not only to avert mental impairments caused by work but also maintain people's mental health. One of the foundations for this is psychosocial risk assessment. BAuA has also been making important contributions to the Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy (Gemeinsame Deutsche Arbeitsschutzstrategie, GDA) with the activities it conducts on mental workload as a facet of occupational safety and health.