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Mental health problems threaten the knowledge economy

The study: "Mental Capital: a preliminary study into the psychological dimension of economic development," was commissioned by the Dutch Council for Health Research.

Weehuizen notes that while this report deals with the situation in the Netherlands, the same is happening in all modern economies.

"My research focuses on the Netherlands, but all modern knowledge economies are damaging their human capital to some extent. It is a result of the pressure to be ever more productive. In the industrial sector you can achieve that by putting in more and better machines, but in the service economy the main way to achieve this is by making people work more and more intensely. By giving workers autonomy they have to effectively self-manage and self-regulate, which is much more efficient from the firm's perspective, but which adds substantially to the load and pressure of the worker."

In the modern knowledge economy in which increasing numbers of people are working in the services sector - workers need to be autonomous, flexible, adaptive, and able to continuously deal with new circumstances, tasks and knowledge. The increased interaction with customers and colleagues that this requires means that workers need to regulate their emotions and feelings. Research shows that this is difficult for many workers, and it is leading to greater levels of stress and mental health problems.

Mental health is also a major problem in economic terms. In the Netherlands stress and work pressure are the cause of 29 % of sick leave and of 30 % of work disability. Thirty percent of the cost of health care in the Netherlands is directly or indirectly related to metal health problems like work related stress, burn out, depression and other ailments. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about 4 % of gross national product (GNP) in countries such as the Netherlands is lost due to the direct and indirect costs of mental health problems.

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Contact: Terry Collins
terrycollins@rogers.com
212-963-6387
United Nations University
3-Nov-2006


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