Research News

Workplace mental health programmes reduce depression, study shows

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 12 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3196
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

Mental health promotion programmes that are provided to entire workforces, and not just to those considered at risk of mental illness, can significantly reduce levels of depression symptoms, a systematic review published in BMC Medicine has shown.1 The review also demonstrated that the greatest benefit came from cognitive behavioural therapy based approaches.

Depression is predicted to become the leading cause of work related disability by 2020, but there has previously been limited evidence for the effectiveness of prevention programmes in the workplace.

Researchers analysed all randomised controlled trials of workplace mental health interventions that were aimed at an entire workforce and that reported outcomes on standardised measures of depression.

Results from the nine studies that they identified showed a small but significant positive effect of workplace based mental health programmes, with an overall standardised mean difference of 0.16 (95% confidence interval 0.07 to 0.24; P=0.0002) between the intervention and control groups. The studies included nearly 2300 people working in a range of organisations in different countries, including government, sales, and manufacturing.

Five of the studies were based on cognitive behavioural therapy, which aims to help people better understand their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours in stressful situations. These showed greater effectiveness than other approaches that were based on improving knowledge about mental health promotion, such as one based on increasing physical activity and another based on team participation.

Samuel Harvey, senior lecturer in workplace mental health at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and senior author of the study, said, “Previously it has been assumed that mental health interventions will only help those who are already suffering from significant symptoms. Our results show that a range of relatively simple programmes produce small but overall positive effects across an entire workforce.

“The results add to the imperative that depression should no longer be ignored in workplace health promotion programmes.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3196


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