The writers
The writers
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Continuous unemployment can lead to mental illness

Ghana’s economic conditions, including the cost of living and high unemployment rates, have become a huge psychological burden for many individuals and households.

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Under the circumstances, it becomes necessary to examine the relationship between unemployment and mental health. This is the impetus of this article.  

Mental illness

Mental illness refers to a range of mental health conditions that affect a person's thinking, mood, behaviour and overall functioning. Mental illness can significantly affect a person's ability to cope with daily activities, work and relationships.

These disorders can range from mild to severe conditions and they include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and many others. Healthcare experts believe that mental illness usually results from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Mental illness is a chronic condition that cannot be cured but it is highly treatable. 
 

Legal basis for employment 

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), employment means a person aged 15 years or over who has done at least one hour's paid work in a given week, or who is absent from work for certain reasons (annual leave, sickness, maternity, etc.).

Article 36 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution is one of the directive principles of state policy the Constitution provides for. Article 36 provides, “The State shall take all necessary action to provide adequate means of livelihood and suitable employment and public assistance to the needy”. 

Unemployment

Regarding unemployment, the ILO states that an unemployed person is a person aged 15 years or more who simultaneously meets three conditions (being unemployed for a given week; being available to take a job within two weeks; having actively sought a job in the last four weeks or having one, starting in less than three weeks).  

Unfortunately, and contrary to the constitutional provision regarding employment in Ghana, high unemployment rates constitute a huge social problem for many families nationwide. Many qualified graduates and professionals are without gainful employment.

 The Government of Ghana seems helpless or should we say pays lip service to the unemployment problem and it has become a canker. Numerous political campaign promises to create more jobs in Ghana have become nothing but a four-year mirage that resurfaces with pretentious seriousness in an election year.

Central government officials only create temporary jobs and praise themselves in the media that they have created thousands of jobs. The unfortunate cycle continues unabatedly.

This neglect of job creation leading to high unemployment rates does not only breach Article 36 of the 1992 Constitution but is also sinful against humanity. Even though the unemployment rate in Ghana decreased from 6.81 in 2015 to 5.1 in 2016, the rate has plateaued from 2017 to 2023 with minimal increases from 3.37 in 2017 to 3.92 in 2023.        

Arguably, decent work is good for mental health. It is, thus, argued that for people with mental health conditions, decent work can contribute to recovery and inclusion, and improve confidence and social functioning.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) maintains that safe and healthy working environments are not only a fundamental right but are also more likely to minimise tension and conflicts at work and improve staff retention, work performance and productivity.

Conversely, a lack of effective structures and support at work, especially for those living with mental health conditions, can affect a person’s ability to enjoy their work.
Regarding decent work, Ghana’s 1992 Constitution provides in Articles 24 (1) and 24 (2) that:

“Every person has the right to work under satisfactory, safe and healthy conditions. Every worker shall be assured of rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periods of holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays”.

Aside from the fact that unemployment leads to many social vices including but not limited to prostitution and armed robbery, empirical studies also found that sudden job loss or being continuously unemployed is associated with elevated depression. Unemployment is also linked to suicide or suicidal thoughts.

The WHO also opines that poor working environments – including discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, low job control and job insecurity – pose a risk to sound mental health.

Advisedly, therefore, employers and governments must provide effective actions to prevent mental health risks at work. Although psychosocial risks can be found in all sectors, some workers are more likely to be exposed to them than others, because of what they do or where and how they work.

Health, humanitarian or emergency workers often have jobs that carry an elevated risk of exposure to adverse events which affect mental health. Meanwhile, other empirical evidence shows that diminished mental health prolongs unemployment. 

Conclusion 

People with severe mental health conditions are more likely to be excluded from employment, and when in employment, they are more likely to experience inequality at work. Being out of work also poses a risk to mental health. Unemployment, job and financial insecurity, and recent job loss are risk factors for suicide attempts.

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Government, employers, workers’ unions and other stakeholders responsible for workers’ health and safety can help to improve mental health at work through various interventions that support good mental health at work. Preventing mental health conditions at work is about managing psychosocial risks in the workplace.

Organisational interventions include, for example, providing flexible working arrangements or implementing frameworks to deal with violence and harassment at work.

To draw the curtain, we recommend that the government strictly adhere to Article 36 of the 1992 Constitution and implement interventions necessary to create more decent and sustainable jobs to reduce the alarming unemployment rate in Ghana.  

The writers are a Hospital Administrator and Junior Assistant Registrar- UHAS respectively, Ho
Emails: [email protected] & [email protected]  

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