“Canada and Europe are entering a free trade agreement. In that spirit of mutual interest, we wish to support the mental health of working families in Europe by encouraging employers to share information to better manage depression in the workplace.”
Andre Francois Giroux
Canada’s Ambassador to Denmark
Ambassador Giroux convened the first in a series of TARGET ‘Employer Roundtables’ on June 18th, 2014 in Copenhagen. Employers taking part included:
- AP Moller
- Britta Borch Ege
- Central Organization of Industrial Employees in Denmark
- Falck Denmark
- FL Smidth
- Municipality of Copenhagen
Copenhagen employers learned that 20% of the Denmark population had been diagnosed with depression in the past year and fully 60% of these people were forced off work for more than 40 days.
These employers discussed their role in supporting employees in distress and those who are off work due to depression. Consensus emerged that employer-to-employer information exchanges would be valuable to stimulate interest and action.
“I am very pleased to host this discussion – one of several that are taking place across Europe – from Copenhagen, Geneva and London to Brussels, and from here to Rome next week, and Madrid and Rotterdam in the fall. Those events are in pursuit of sharing information and establishing connections among employers to help reduce the impact of depression in the workplace. The subject has enormous social and economic importance, and employer involvement is crucial.”
Canada’s Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg
With these words, on June 9th, 2015, Ambassador Robert spells out the purpose of TARGET to an important cluster of employers.
Participating organizations included:
- British Telecom
- Bupa, UK
- CGI Belgium NV
- ING Belgium
- Loterie Nationale
- Lundbeck, Belgium
- National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance
- Royal Bank of Canada
- SD Worx
- UCB SA/NV
Participants discussed the cost impact and onset ‘earlier in life’ of depression, concentrated among men and women in their prime years of work – and their adolescent children.
British Telecom, Unilever and Lundbeck briefed the Roundtable on what they are doing currently on mental health in the workplace and participants agreed mental health programs must be embedded in the business itself.
Employers also agreed that a prerequisite for success in developing and implementing mental health programs in the workplace is the top management’s engagement.
“A number of major corporations have banded together to launch a campaign called ‘TARGET the Impact of depression in the workplace and we are here to learn about their reasons for this and how other employers might wish to know more.”
Canada’s Ambassador to Italy
The Business Roundtable in Rome was hosted by Canada’s Ambassador to Italy, His Excellency Peter McGovern on June 18th, 2015.
Corporations that took part included:
- Bombardier Transportation Italy
- Compagnia Surgelati Italiane
- Ericsson Telecommunications
- Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane
- HR Community Academy
- Telecom Italia
- Unilever Italy Holdings
- Depression disables. It is the leading cause of workplace disability.
- Depression worsens other chronic disorders.
- Depression kills – increases the risk of heart attack and suicide.
- Employers and the economy bear the heaviest cost of depression.
- Employers lose productive capacity.
- Employers have the power to reduce risk in the form of chronic job stress.
- Depression is concentrated among men and women in prime years of work.
- Depression attacks brain skills as we transition to a brain economy.
- Depression will continue to grow without serious interventions.
“Major employers are now awakening to their stake in reducing the economic cost of depression which are driven mainly by lost work time – lost productivity.”
Canada’s Ambassador to Italy
“Through the TARGET campaign, in just 18 months, employers in various sectors have come together to address workplace mental health and, specifically, the impact of depression.”
Canada’s Ambassador to Spain
With these words, Ambassador Jon Allen opened the TARGET business roundtable he convened in his official residence in Madrid on September 24, 2015. The “Why Depression” theme was again examined.
Corporations participating in the Madrid Roundtable included:
- Commidad de Madris
- Gupo San Jose
- La Caixa
- Lundbeck Spain
- Pelayo Mutua de Seguros
The Madrid Roundtable demonstrated the interest in workplace mental health among companies in shipbuilding, oil and gas, transportation, engineering and construction/infrastructure sectors.
These employers discussed new trends in public health facing the Spanish and European economies characterized by:
- Major shift from infectious to non-communicable disease as the most significant public health challenge.
- Surge of chronic brain-based mental disorders concentrated among men and women in their prime working and earning years.
- Potential labour shortages created by the rates of early retirement due to major mental disorders; gender variables associated with the onset of depression; and the concentration of depression among men and women in their prime working years.
“The ILO supports the TARGET initiative and indeed, dialogue and sharing of good practices are watchwords on which the ILO was founded. Our approach to managing the impact of depression in the workplace is through preventative measures to tackle root causes.”
Director-General, International Labour Organization
On April 11th, 2014, the Director-General of the International Labor Organization, Guy Ryder, transformed a meeting of the TARGET advisory group into a major review of mental health policy and need across the world. A remarkable series of presentations shaped the discourse:
Dr. Eva Jane-Llopis, World Economic Forum, outlined the objectives of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Wellbeing and Mental Health. The Council’s Co-Chair, Dr. Thomas Insel, separately, applauded TARGET’s focus on depression given the “high return” that will flow from improved treatment.
Dr. Jane-Llopis reported on the Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-14, demonstrating “serious concerns” among business leaders in the costs of non-communicable disorders in both OECD and non-OECD countries.
She also pointed to a “disconnect between theory, policy advice and the reality of managing mental disorders.
Dr. Dan Chisholm, World Health Organization, outlined WHO’s Mental Health Action Plan and its focus – like TARGET – on workplaces and employment. Dr. Chisholm also underscored the cost-effectiveness of managing depression including the return on investment.
He said the TARGET campaign can be useful in building a “robust evidence base of corporate achievements (BT, Unilever etc) for strong advocacy into the future” including the promotion of safe and supportive working conditions.
In 2016, Dr. Chisholm unveiled a comprehensive analysis of the return on investments globally to be realized by investments in the management of mental disorders, a milestone in making an actionable business investment case.
Dr. Jurgen Scheftlein, representing the Health and Consumers Directorate of the European Commission discussed the Joint Action Mental Health and Wellbeing initiative launched by the Commission to mobilize policy-makers, employers and health leaders.
We took TARGET’s message to Bruges, Belgium on June 12th, 2015, and a conference staged by CIGNA, a large US-headquartered health insurance company. The theme for the event was “Keep Mental Health in Mind.” We underscored:
- The clinical links between depression and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer as well as its influence on suicidal decision-making.
- According to the London School of Economics, depression consumes nearly one billion working days a year in Europe and is “by far, the most important illness for people of working age.”
- In Finland, studies found that men – with no prior history of heart attacks but elevated levels of depression – were more likely to have a first heart attack even after biological and behavioral risks were accounted for.
- Co-morbid depression has been linked to 20% higher risk of cardiovascular death among those living with diabetes, according to US, Canadian and European research.
- The American Academy of Neurology reports that people with depression have triple the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease.
- Sickness-related absence and early retirement due to mental health problems have increased across Europe over the past few decades compared to so-called ‘physical health’ disorders.
- Several studies have confirmed that the predominance of major depression in the EU with “no substantial cultural or country variations in the prevalence of mental disorders.
- We said this data reflects the reasons why – through the TARGET campaign – corporations have turned their attention in such a conclusive way to the development of workplace practices that reduce psycho-social risk.
TARGET was invited to bring a business perspective to an urgent meeting of neuroscientists with specialized knowledge in neuropharmacology – drugs to treat brain disorders. The event took place in Munich on November 24th, 2013.
The group was deeply concerned about a slowdown in the development of new drug therapies for central nervous system conditions such as depression. Factors were: cost, drug development timelines, failures in clinical trials and regulator skepticism.
International Business-Brain Science Partnership
In response to these concerns, we reported on Canadian efforts to build a strategic alliance between business across all sectors of the economy and science to rationalize and push for long-term investments in neuroscience and workplace-based initiatives.
Big business – across borders – has a vested interest in the results of neuroscience and is advised to invest in this research so as to invest profitably in the long-term health and productive capacity of their own people.
TARGET participated in the first ever Portuguese Mental Health and Business Forum in 2015 led by ENCONTRAR+SE – an innovative association for mental health promotion, a not-for-profit enterprise dedicated to improving better community-based recovery services for people with psychiatric disorders in Portugal.
Relying almost exclusively on private sector and philanthropic financial support, Filipa Pahla, founded Encontrar+SE to deliver change in her country by:
- Launching the first national anti-stigma campaign – “A Song to Mental Health”, reaching two-thirds of the population over age 15.
- Implementing the first Portugal school-based program to promote mental health literacy; and
- Creating, with Portugese Catholic University, the first Masters program in psychosocial rehabilitation for mental disorders.
Business Turns Out in Force
TARGET participated in a celebratory gala that attracted more than 400 members of the Porto business and governmental communities.
Among the employers taking part in this extraordinary launch of Portugal’s entry into workplace mental health were:
- Adidas Business Services
- Ascendi, Portugal
- Católica Porto Business School – Universidade Católica Portuguesa
- Dynargie, Portugal
- MOA de Portugal
- Time Wheels
- Yazaki Saltano Ovar
TARGET helped tell the “The Norway Story” developed by a creative project team in Kristiansand, Norway who developed an initiative called “How are you – really?” – focussing on prevention of mental disorders in the workforce.
FRONT AS, a social entrepreneur and the University of Agder – sponsored by Norwegian Research Council – conducted a pilot project centred on 14 participating workplaces from the private and public sector.
TARGET took part in a public forum in Kristiansand to discuss the project and the participation of major employers including one of Norway’s largest workwear suppliers, amplifying the value of manager training in mental health
Interestingly, the surveys done for this project revealed that employees generally assessed their mental health as “good” while describing how they grappled with what proved to be symptoms consistent with depression.
The Norwegian workforce, according to this study, demonstrates that employees want an opportunity to openly discuss “life’s difficulties” but their managers lack the insight and skills to facilitate this.
One interesting feature of “The Norway Story” is that responsibility for preventive mental health care fell to the municipality of Kristiansand.
We took our message to Athens May 17th, 2014 for the Policy Conference conducted by the European Agency for Occupational Health and Safety, describing TARGET’s ‘Roadmap to Resources’, an analysis of tools available to employers online to manage mental health problems among their people.
Three broad approaches are recommended:
- Gradually introducing initiatives for workplaces functioning well.
- Matching initiatives with existing workplace concerns and risk management.
- Aligning initiatives with business goals to engage senior management.
Prevalence of mental health problems in the workplace can be extrapolated from:
- Prescription drug use if data is available to the employer.
- Absence rates.
- Surveys, employee screenings.
Effects of a mentally unhealthy work environment can be calculated through:
- Labour grievances, workplace conflict, incident reports and survey data.
- Loss of output or productivity, and turnover.
Online frameworks, guidelines and standards available to employers to:
- Assess psycho-social risks (Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire).
- Assess organizational risks, management standards and behaviours.
- Enhancement of mental health in the workplace.
- Manage stress: BKK management guidelines.