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Phyllis Gabriel, International Labour Organisation
"Stress can lead to a number of mental health issues"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
IT revolution fuels workplace stress

IT growth and globalization are partly to blame for rising stress levels
A new report says that increasing numbers of people suffer from stress because of changes in work practices - and it is costing governments and companies billions of dollars a year.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), a UN agency handling employment issues, drew these conclusions in a survey drawn from separate studies conducted in five industrialised countries.

Stress damage
US: One in 10 adults suffer from a depressive disorder each year
Germany: Absenteeism related to mental health problems costs $2.2bn each year
UK: Three in 10 employees suffer mental problems each year
Poland: Anxiety about unemployment grew 50% between 1997 and 1999
Finland: 30,000 working years lost due to suicides every year
The results led the ILO to predict a dramatic worldwide increase in depression and stress as new technologies grow and globalisation accelerates.

It said that incidences of stress, depression and burnout had increased over the past decade with up to one in 10 workers affected.

'Alarming' increase

The increase in depression in particular was "alarming", the survey said.

Changes in the diagnostic system and more open attitudes towards mental illness meant that the rise was not necessarily absolute.

But depression was now the second most disabling illness for workers after heart disease, the survey said.

And incidences of mental, neurological and behavioural disorders are rising so fast that they will overtake road accidents, Aids and violence as the primary cause of work years lost due to premature death or disability.

Immense cost

The cost of the problem to employers and governments is said to run to billions of dollars a year.

Woman feeling stress
The ILO is worried about the increase in depression
In the US, $40bn is spent on the treatment of depression alone and 200 million working days are lost every year.

Four per cent of the EU's gross national product is spent on mental health problems.

Causes

Job insecurity and rising unemployment have contributed to high stress rates in Finland, Poland and Germany.

In Finland, the problem is particularly severe, with more than 50% of workers suffering from burnout and 7% severe burnout.

But in Britain and the US, the problem is attributed to the pressures of mastering the information technology revolution and increased productivity demands.

Companies are having to change working practices to cope with rising mental health bills.

"These trends represent a wake-up call for business," the ILO report said.

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See also:

14 Aug 00 | Health
Workers urged to monitor illness
25 May 00 | Health
Job strain 'as bad as smoking'
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