Work is a remarkable part of everyday life for many of us. No matter how much one might love one’s job, work is always, among the positive aspects, also a source of encumbrance and stress. I have had a close look at the trend of young women getting burnout in my circle of friends and as a politician, I am truly worried. Themes of employment are usually a dominant part of the Finnish political discussion of the national economy and its future. Among the debates of jobs created and jobs lost, the issue of wellbeing and exhaustion need to be at the center of the discourse too.
At the moment a record number of people suffer from occupational burnout, exhaustion and depression. We are facing immense and unforeseen costs - human and economic - due to disability and inability to work on account of mental health issues.
Finland has a worrisome amount of early retirement cases due to mental health reasons. In 2019 alone over 6700 new people were considered unable to work and given disability on grounds of mental health problems. Altogether over 60000 people are on early retirement due to mental health. The flipside of this is that if we make an effort and invest in mental health and wellbeing we can enable thousands of people to stay in the workforce annually. With the right combination of methods, the number of people who avoid the vortex of depression and exhaustion can amount to almost ten thousand people annually. To avoid the shocking amount of suffering and economic burden caused by the deterioration of mental health we need to take into account both the treatment of mental health problems and also the prevention of such problems altogether.
Past years have been a time of swift technological advancement that has brought along factors and phenomena, the effects of which we are only starting to fully understand. The constant availability of multiple means of communication and constant attempts at multitasking are affecting our attention span and ability to concentrate. This affects our sleep as well.
Effective means to improve occupational wellbeing and mental health across the board are numerous. Here are a few. Integrating more exercise to everyday life can have an all-around positive impact on wellbeing. The government is supporting this with for instance fringe benefits on cycling. The presence of nature can have an enormous effect on mental health. Research shows that only 15 minutes in a forest alleviates stress and lowers heart rate. Therefore we need to support the possibilities of accessible and refreshing nature services to everyone. And when the need arises, accessible and low-threshold mental health services need to be available to everyone. Steps to better care include for example possibility to receive help anonymously and better access to short therapy contacts in public health care.
During the current Covid pandemic both positive and negative effects on occupational wellbeing have been identified. Especially in so-called knowledge work the drastic increase of remote work has helped people to avoid some of the stress-inducing factors depicted. On the other hand, the monotonous reality of working from home and the lack of live contact with colleagues has brought along new problems, apathy.
The Covid situation has had an altogether negative impact on the mental health of the people of Finland. It is of paramount importance that we provide the resources to take care of this increasing psychological burden. But simultaneously we need broad and thorough investments to care for and preventing mental health problems and maintaining wellbeing. That is essential for the well-being of people and upholding a sustainable economy.
Jenni Pitko is a Finnish politician currently serving in the Parliament of Finland for the Green League at the Oulu constituency.
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of The Finnish Parliament contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.
The articles will be published in order of arrival.