Mental health in the workplace: taking a scientific approach

Our mission is to understand which approaches are effective in supporting mental health in the workplace.

To do this, we are bringing together employers and the mental health science community to build a better understanding of what works, for whom and in what context.

What we’re doing and how 

We’re currently working with researchers from across the world to look at the evidence behind approaches for supporting mental health in the workplace. As part of this, we’re also trying to understand where there are gaps in the evidence.  

Longer-term, we think scientists and employers need to work together to build a more robust evidence base. This will make sure businesses can put in place the interventions that will make the biggest difference to the mental health of their staff. 

1. What the evidence tells us

From our research and engagement with businesses so far, we know that more and more employers are looking for ways to support the mental health of their staff. For example, the global corporate wellness market is predicted to grow to $66 billion by 2022.

There are many reasons why employers choose to invest in workplace mental health, including research showing that anxiety and depression are costing the global economy approximately $1 trillion every year in lost productivity.

But the evidence around which interventions work is still developing.

Currently, very few employers meaningfully measure the impact of what they’re doing to support the mental health of their staff. When they do, few make this data publicly available. This means there is little research for employers to draw upon when deciding which approaches may benefit their workforce, including how to put these into practice.

To fill the gaps in our knowledge, we need businesses to work with scientists to test mental health interventions in the workplace and publish this data.  

2. Our approach

To make the case for a more scientific approach to workplace mental health, we’ve started by looking at how much science there already is in this area. 

In 2020, we commissioned 10 global research teams to review the evidence behind potentially promising mental health approaches in the workplace. This research focused on anxiety and depression, primarily among younger workers.

In 2021, we’ve commissioned a further 15 teams to review the evidence behind more approaches, this time looking at a wider range of mental health problems and all-age workers. 

We’re sharing our findings directly with employers, working closely with the World Economic Forum and other business networks. Our focus is on showing the value of looking at the science and why it’s important that businesses play a role in helping to build the evidence base in this area. 

Wellcome has also funded the World Health Organization to develop guidelines on workplace mental health interventions, based on existing evidence. We’re expecting these to be published early in 2022. 

3. Our values

We want to encourage a new conversation about mental health in the workplace, one that’s underpinned by science and a shared focus on understanding which approaches are effective. 

Through our work, we aim to:

  • involve people with lived experience – we’re developing our work in partnership with people who have lived experience of mental health problems. This includes involving lived experience advisors in decisions about what to fund, and asking the research teams we fund to work collaboratively with people with lived experience.  
  • improve inclusivity and global representation – we’re looking at a range of workplace environments, from multinational companies, to small and medium enterprises, to the informal sector, in low-, middle- and high-income countries. And we’re considering the needs of different people within the workforce, particularly those who may be under-represented or experiencing inequalities and discrimination.
  • recognise the importance of context – the wider workplace context, including workplace culture and broader organisational factors such as pay and workload, will likely influence how effective mental health interventions are. It is important to consider all these elements as part of our research. 
  • encourage collaboration – by bringing together employers, researchers from different disciplines and people with lived experience of mental health problems, we hope to create new knowledge about workplace mental health that benefits everyone.  

Who we’re working with 

Researchers we’ve funded 

In 2020, we funded ten research teams to review the evidence behind approaches to supporting mental health in the workplace. Their work is collated in our report Putting science to work: Understanding what works for workplace mental health.

In 2021, we’ve commissioned a further 15 teams to review the evidence behind more approaches. Findings will be available in Spring 2022.

Our lived experience advisors

We’re working closely with a team of lived experience advisors whose knowledge and expertise is informing the design and delivery of this work. 

The advisors help us decide who to commission and support our funded researchers to involve people with lived experience of mental health problems in their research. They are:

  • Chantelle Booysen, South Africa
  • Jazmine Hutchinson, United Kingdom
  • Meghna Khatwani, India
  • Niharika Maggo, India
  • James Morgan, United Kingdom
  • Benny Prawira, Indonesia
  • Veronica Wanyee, Kenya

What we’ve learned so far 

Funding 

We currently don’t have an active call for funding in this area, but you can look for other funding opportunities through our discovery research schemes

Meet the team  

  • Professor Miranda Wolpert, Director of Mental Health, Wellcome
  • Beck Smith, Head of Mental Health Policy, Wellcome
  • Rhea Newman, Policy Adviser, Wellcome
  • Joe Kiely, Graduate Trainee, Wellcome
  • Catherine Smith, Graduate Trainee, Wellcome
  • Dr Kate Martin, Head of Lived Experience, Wellcome
  • Lynsey Bilsland, Head of Health Systems and Environment, Mental Health, Wellcome
  • Elena Netsi, Research Manager, Health Systems and Environment, Mental Health, Wellcome

If you have any questions or comments, email workplacementalhealth@wellcome.org.

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