Prevention System Updates

OECD report: prevalence makes mental illness a workplace issue

Release Date:  Jan 24, 2012

Between 55% and 70% of people with a mental disorder have jobs, says the report. This makes promoting mental well-being a workplace issue.

According to Sick on the Job? Myths and Realities about Mental Health and Work, one in five workers suffers from a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. Many are struggling to cope, which can affect workplace productivity and benefit costs:

  • 3 in 4 workers with a mental disorder report reduced productivity at work, compared to 1 in 4 workers without a mental disorder
  • absenteeism is more frequent and longer for workers with mental illness
  • about 30% to 50% of all new disability benefit claims in OECD countries are for reasons of mental ill-health; among young adults this proportion exceeds 70%1

Most mental disorders, says the report, are mild or moderate, and are frequently referred to as “common mental disorders” (CMD). Typically, 75% of those affected by mental disorder have a CMD, and one-quarter a severe mental disorder (SMD). Among the most frequent CMDs are mood disorders (depression), neurotic disorders (anxiety), and substance-use disorders. However, any of these illnesses can evolve to become so severe that they would be classified as SMDs.1

The report identifies opportunities for a number of stakeholders. For employers, these include:

  • securing good working conditions and developing sound management practices
  • systematic monitoring of sick-leave behaviour
  • working closely with other stakeholders to bring people with mental illness back to work
  • addressing stigma and discrimination1

Incidence of absence due to sickness1



The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a multidisciplinary international body made up of 30 member countries. It offers a structure/forum for governments to consult and cooperate with each other in order to develop and refine economic and social policy. Canada is a member.

1 Source, all statistics and figures: OECD Mental Health and Work Project, http://www.oecd.org/document/20/0,3746,en_2649_34747_38887124_1_1_1_1,00.html