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Latin America and Brazil: Overview of Mental Health Conditions in Workplace

6th April, 2020

Tiago Rossi



According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Latin America and the Caribbean, mental health problems, including the use of psychoactive substances, account for more than a third of total disability in this region. Of this percentage, depressive disorders are among the major causes of disability, followed by anxiety disorders.

Nevertheless, investment into mental health is on average only 2% of these country's health budgets and from this percentage, about 60% is intended to psychiatric hospitals. This type of investment goes against the recommendations of PAHO / WHO that recommends the provision of integrated services for mental disorders in primary care or in general hospitals, accompanied by social support.

The same lack of investment made by the government is also seen in the private sector. Most companies in the countries of this region direct their resources to develop the mental health of their teams in order to comply with local labor laws. This often gives the impression that they are only making this investment to be up to date with their legal obligations.

Recognizing the importance of mental well-being in the workplace, to the point of putting money into the development of their workers, is not yet a reality. Most companies see these costs as an expense.

Despite recognizing that the conditions offered by the government are not good enough to meet the population's demand, most companies delegate the mental health care of their employees to public health and social security.

Brazil

The guidelines and strategies for action in the area of mental health care in Brazil involve the Federal Government, States and Municipalities. The main services in mental health are performed in Psychosocial Care Centers (CAPS), where the user receives care close to their family with multiprofessional assistance and therapeutic care according to the health status of each patient.

However, even assuming that in theory government strategies are well formulated, in practice they do not work as expected. This makes the health system unable to serve the general population, including workers.

Following the example of other countries in Latin America, a small number of Brazilian companies have some kind of program focused on the mental health of their employees. This is directly reflected in Brazil's economy.

Statistics

According to data published by the Finance Ministry, in Brazil, mental and behavioral disorders are the third leading cause of incapacity for work. This corresponds to 9% of the granting of sickness benefit and disability retirement.

This data survey also shows that depressive episodes are the main cause of payment of sickness benefit unrelated to work accidents. This corresponds to 30.67% of the total, followed by other anxiety disorders (17.9%).

When you look at the board of paid aid related to work, the numbers are even more significant. Reactions to severe stress and adjustment disorders, depressive episodes and other anxiety disorders caused 79% of absenteeism in the period from 2012 to 2016.

Among workers there are five groups that are most vulnerable to mental disorders: urban public transport (drivers and collectors), banking (account manager and agencies manager), elementary education (teachers) and surveillance and security (armed and unarmed).

The great challenge nowadays is for the workers to recognize the importance of caring for their own mental health, and for entrepreneurs to recognize the relationship between organizational conditions and the impacts on the mental health of their employees. This will create the conditions necessary to modify the current scenario.

Psychosocial risks

Various working conditions can lead to psychosocial risks, so Brazilian employers and workers should be aware of the situations that are most commonly observed: excessive workloads; contradictory requirements and lack of clarity in the definition of functions; lack of participation in making decisions that affect workers; lack of control over how you do the job; poor management of organizational changes; job insecurity - especially that linked to job loss; ineffective communication; lack of support from managers and colleagues; psychological or sexual harassment and violence.

Stigma

Stigma and fear of consequences in the workplace remain important barriers to generating awareness, prevention and mental health care for employees. It is not uncommon for those who suffer from a mental disorder to be misunderstood and judged due to false concepts or misconceptions.

Workers with mental health disorders are often discriminated against by colleagues and passed over by employers. This ends up isolating them from others, placing them on the sidelines and curtailing their opportunities.

Actions focused on individuals

What is noticed is that when a company performs actions aimed at improving the mental health of its teams, these actions are focused on the individual and do not cover the organization as a whole. In other words, policies are not created, leaders are not developed, the environment is not adequate and work processes are harmful. This fails to transform the company's health culture.

Few actions are taken to actually know a company's mental health. Neither a profile is drawn nor an organizational diagnosis is made. This leads to a difficulty in measuring the results achieved.

Future prospects

The statistics presented so far point to significant financial losses for companies, which shows that there are several opportunities to work on mental health in the workplace in Brazil.

Although the vast majority of companies only take some action aimed at mental health due to the mandatory local labor laws, there is a growing awareness among entrepreneurs of the importance of taking care of their teams' mental health. This opens space for innovative solutions to appear.

It is already possible to see some startups redirecting their core business from business-to-customers to business-to-business to bring mental health to workers. With that, digital solutions are arriving in the corporate environment.



Tiago Rossi

Tiago Rossi is an Engineer and Pharmacist. He has a Masters Degree in Health and is a specialist in Strategic Business Process Management. He is also Co-founder and strategy director of Mental PRO, where he is responsible for implementing engineering in the health field through a mathematical method that supports their main product “Program Mental PRO of Mental Health Diagnosis for Organizations”. In addition Tiago is the manager of this business.

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