Mental Health in an Organisational Context: Understanding the Costs, Causes, Symptoms, and Strategies

nearSea Technologies


Mental health has become a significant concern in the workplace, with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reporting that approximately 84 million Europeans had a mental health problem in 2016. Mental health is “a state of well-being in which each individual realises his or her own potential, is able to cope with the normal stresses of everyday life, can work productively and is able to contribute to his or her community" (WHO, 2014; Scheid & Brown, 2010).

This article focuses on mental health in an organisational context, exploring the costs, causes, symptoms, and strategies to improve mental health in the workplace.

Mental Health at Work

The Costs

Mental health issues come at a high cost to organisations. In the EU alone, mental health costs in work settings reach €620 billion per year, with employers bearing the brunt of €270 billion in absenteeism and presenteeism costs and €240 billion in lost output. So, improving mental health in the workplace is not only beneficial for employees but also for organisations. But first, it’s important to understand the main causes of mental health problems.

The Main Causes

Stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression are the main causes of mental health problems in the workplace. Stress is a physiological reaction to a new or unexpected situation, allowing individuals to be alert and respond. However, prolonged stress can lead to burnout, a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from cumulative stress in a work context, which can eventually result in Anxiety. Anxiety, characterised by feelings of worry and insecurity, with physical changes, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, and sweating, can lead to Depression. A pathology characterised by chemical changes in the brain, includes deep and persistent sadness, feelings of tiredness, and a general lack of interest. These causes can have significant impacts on individuals' mental health in the workplace, leading to a range of symptoms.

The Symptoms

Psychological and physical symptoms are common in individuals experiencing mental health problems in the workplace. Psychological symptoms include irritability, excessive worrying, loss of short-term memory, demotivation, difficulties concentrating, and a need for isolation. Physical symptoms include tiredness and trembling, an accelerated heartbeat, muscle tension, indigestion and sweating, headache and dizziness, teeth grinding or nail-biting, and changes in appetite and/or weight.

Several causes can contribute to the development of these problems in the workplace. These include:

  • Lack of influence or power to make decisions
  • Unclear expectations
  • Dysfunctional work dynamics
  • Incompatible values
  • Fear of losing the job
  • Poor working conditions  
  • Unbalance between professional and personal life
  • Harassment and mobbing

The First Steps

The first step in addressing mental health in the workplace is to accept anxiety as part of the situation being experienced, recognise the symptoms, and focus on the here and now. Identifying the actions within your sphere of influence and trusting your abilities to deal with difficult situations can help alleviate anxiety. Doing what you enjoy most and what gives you pleasure can also help, and creating a list of such activities and sticking to them can provide a sense of purpose.


Several strategies can be employed to improve mental health in the workplace. These strategies include:

  • Creating a stress diary
  • Sharing the situation with friends and family
  • Taking short breaks between tasks
  • Taking lunchtime walks (for full-remote workers)
  • Engaging in physical activity and a good diet
  • Volunteering
  • Having a hobby or starting pending projects
  • Establishing a routine
  • Setting priorities and tasks with realistic deadlines
  • Learning to say no
  • Adopting a pet

Other Resources

Other resources that will help you improve mental health in the workplace are

  • Psychotherapy
  • White noise or ASMR
  • Mindfulness apps (Headspace or Inside Timer)
  • Podcasts (“Let’s Talk about Mental Health, “Mental Health by Dr. Melissa Mork” or “Owning It: The Anxiety Podcast by Caroline Foran”)
  • Books (“Anxiety by Augusto Cury”, “Unwinding Anxiety by Dr. Judson Brewer” or “Não é Loucura, é Ansiedade by Sophie Seromenho”)
  • Relaxation techniques (yoga)

These resources can help individuals reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, thereby improving their overall well-being.


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