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Work and Mental Illnesses: A Societal Challenge

An occupational activity has positive effects on most people: It promotes well-being, self-development, self-realization and skills development. Work provides structures, enables social identification, provides the experience of efficiency, approbation and social interactions. But it may very well be the cause of illnesses too.

The modern work environment is characterized by economic globalization, digitalization and rationalization. Employees feel more and more overburdened by their workload. 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. All this increases the risk for a so-called burnout. Burnout is thereby not understood as an illness, but rather as a state of risk. If left untreated, it can lead to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders or dependence on medications. Other physical illnesses, including cardio-vascular diseases, may also be the result.

Mental suffering is the primary source of the burden of disease these days and thus has a considerable impact on the economy and on the politics of health care. Worker absenteeism due to mental illness has continually increased 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 derive concrete courses of action for decision makers in the political and social arenas. Among other things, this should make early identification of psychosocial burdens in the workplace and the resulting secondary diseases possible. This shall furthermore strengthen preventive measures, establish suitable therapies and, if necessary, introduce changes in labor law provisions.


  • National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (responsible)
  • Union of the German Academies of Science and Humanities
  • German Academy of Science and Technology 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