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WHO, ILO och EU om stress

The importance of psychosocially induced stress for health and wellbeing is attracting more and more attention and awareness world-wide. Here follow some important manifestations of this awareness.

1. The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe 2001:
"Mental health problems and stress-related disorders are the biggest overall cause of early death in Europe".

2. The International Labour Office (ILO):
"In the Member States of the European Union, the cost of mental health problems is estimated to on average 3-4 per cent of GDP". If one assumes 3.5 per cent and calculates on the basis of the total GDP of the 15 EU Member States in 2003, the cost amounts to 675 billion euro annually.

3. The Council of the European Union (Ministers of Health) on stress and depression related problems (2001)::

  • RECOGNISES that stress and depression related problems … are of major importance to all age groups and are significant contributors to the burden of disease and the loss of quality of life within the European Union.
  • UNDERLINES that stress and depression related problems are common, cause human suffering and disability, increase the risk of social exclusion, increase mortality, and have negative implications for national economies.
  • RECOGNISES that, while there are effective methods to prevent stress and depression related problems, there is a need to further develop research and methods for intervention.
  • RECOGNISES the importance of promoting mental health through actions across all policies and activities.
  • INVITES Member states to give special attention to the increasing problem of work-related stress and depression.

4. The European Framework Agreement on Work-Related Stress, signed by the European Social Partners - ETUC, UNICE, UEAPME and CEEP - on 8 October 2004.

This European agreement marks a big step forward from the Framework Health and Safety Directive (EC 89/391) (Summary):

  • it acknowledges stress as a common concern of European employers, workers and their representatives;
  • it includes work-related stress and its causal factors by name among the risks that should be prevented;
  • it lays down a general framework for preventing, eliminating and managing stress factors (stressors), with specific reference to work organization, content and the working environment
  • these factors are detailed through a series of relevant examples that do not constitute a list which could have given rise to errors and omissions;
  • the employers' responsibility is clearly spelled out, while participation and cooperation by workers and their representatives in the practical implementation of measures to reduce stress (i.e., tackling stressors are an essential part of the agreement.)
  • the agreement is oriented towards action to tackle stress.
  • stress that does not stem from the workplace or working conditions is taken into account if it creates stress inside the workplace ("imported stress"). (ETUC, 2004).

5. In 2008, an EU- and WHO/Europe-sponsored High-Level Conference adopted a European Pact for Mental Health and Wellbeing, stating that ”mental disorders are on the rise in the EU. Today, almost 50 million citizens (about 11% of the population) are estimated to experience mental disorders. Depression is already the most prevalent health problem in many EU-Member States”.

It was further recognized that “mental health is a human right. It enables citizens to enjoy wellbeing, quality of life and health. It promotes learning, working and participation in society (and is also) a key resource for the success of the EU as a knowledge-based society and economy”. A call for specific and coordinated actions was formulated in five priority areas:

  • Prevention of depression and suicide;
  • Mental Health in youth and education;
  • Mental Health in workplace settings;
  • Mental Health in older people, and
  • Combating stigma and social exclusion.

6. And in 2011, the Council of the European Union recognized that “the determinants of mental health and wellbeing, such as social exclusion, poverty, unemployment, poor housing and bad working conditions, problems in education, child abuse, neglect and maltreatment, gender inequality as well as risk factors such as alcohol and drug abuse are multifactorial and can often be found outside health systems, and that therefore improving mental health and wellbeing in the population requires innovative partnerships between the health sector and other sectors such as social affairs, housing, employment and education”.

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