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Work and Mental Illnesses: A Societal Challenge

Occupational activity has a positive effect on most people: It promotes well-being, self-development, self-realization and skills development. Work provides life structures and enables social identification, the experience of efficiency and approbation and social interactions. Work, however, can also be the cause of illnesses.

The modern working environment is characterized by economic globalization and by digitalization and rationalization. Employees feel more and more overburdened by their work. Work is consolidated and accelerated; appointments and pressure to perform predominate, the boundaries between work and leisure time are blurred and the number of inadequate employment contracts is growing. This all increases the danger of the so-called occupational burnout. Burnout is thereby not understood as an illness diagnosis but rather as a risk factor. If left untreated it can lead to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders or dependence on medicinal drugs. Other physical illnesses including cardiovascular diseases can also result.

Mental suffering is a major factor in the burden of disease and thus has a considerable impact on the economy and on the politics of health care. Worker absenteeism because of mental illness has continued to increase since the end of the 1990s and only a small proportion of those affected are adequately treated.

The goal of the working group is a comprehensive analysis of this issue. The interaction between work and mental illness, or alternatively, mental health, will be examined from different perspectives. From this analysis the working group will determine concrete courses of action for decision makers in the political and social arenas. In this way it should be possible to, among other things, recognize the psychosocial risks in the workplace and the resulting illnesses both more effectively and at an earlier stage. In addition, preventive measures shall be enhanced, suitable therapies established and, if applicable, necessary changes in labour law provisions initiated.


  • Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften Leopoldina
  • Union der deutschen Akademien der Wissenschaften
  • Deutsche Akademie der Technikwissenschaften acatech

Spokespersons of the Working Group

Prof. Dr. Peter Falkai ML, Klinik für Psychiatrie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München


  • Prof. Dr. Mathias Berger ML, Klinik für Psychiatrie, Universität Freiburg
  • Dr. Uwe Gerecke, enercity Hannover
  • Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Heinz ML, Klinik für Psychiatrie, Charité Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Clemens Kirschbaum ML, Lehrstuhl für Biopsychologie, Technische Universität Dresden
  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Lenarz ML, Hals-Nasen-Ohrenklinik, Medizinische Hochschule Hannover
  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Maier ML, Klinik für Psychiatrie, Universität Bonn
  • Prof. Dr. Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg ML, Zentralinstitut für Seelische Gesundheit Mannheim
  • Prof. Dr. Arnold Picot, Forschungsstelle für Information, Organisation und Management, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
  • Prof. Dr. Renate Rau, Institut für Psychologie, Universität Halle-Wittenberg
  • Prof. Dr. Steffi Riedel-Heller, Institut für Sozialmedizin, Universität Leipzig
  • Prof. Dr. Marcella Rietschel ML, Zentralinstitut für Seelische Gesundheit Mannheim
  • Prof. Dr. Frank Rösler ML, Institut für Psychologie, Universität Hamburg
  • Prof. Dr. Andrea Schmitt, Klinik für Psychiatrie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
  • Prof. Dr. Johannes Siegrist, Institut für Medizinische Soziologie, Universität Düsseldorf
  • Prof. Dr. Sabine Sonnentag ML, Lehrstuhl für Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie, Universität Mannheim

ML = Mitglied der Leopoldina



Dr. Henning Steinicke

Scientific Officer, Department Science - Policy - Society

Phone 0345 - 47 239 - 864
Fax 0345 - 47 239 - 839
E-Mail henning.steinicke @leopoldina.org