Conversations With a Policy Maker

I recently had the privilege of representing Portugal during the European Wellbeing@Work summit. I was honoured to be joined by fellow Portuguese citizen, forward thinker and policy maker, Ricardo Baptista Leite.

Ricardo is a highly regarded Medical Doctor, University Professor, Politician and Author. He is a 3rd term Member of the Portuguese National Parliament, Head of Public Health at the Catholic University of Portugal and is currently starting his Mayoral Campaign for Sintra.

Our discussion focused on mental health and progressive ways to improve Wellbeing. Our conversation offered context to:

  • The impact on the Portuguese Public Health system as a result of poor mental health pre-covid to-date.
  • Possible strategies that can be implemented to better assist communities
  • The economic impact due to reduced productivity and lack of engagement
  • Government including Wellbeing as part of their strategy

Leaders across Europe have diverted their attention to ensuring a rapid and safe recovery from the COVID-19 crisis with focus on promoting economic growth while preventing further loss of life. This is undoubtedly hugely important, but research shows why leaders can’t afford to ignore another critical and underappreciated consequence of the pandemic: the toll on happiness and wellbeing.

People worldwide have suffered a huge blow from COVID-19 and the measures implemented to curb its spread. Indeed, the crisis elicited an especially high toll regarding how people feel about their health, relationships and resilience; with reports of depression and loneliness doubling or even tripling over previous norms.

Sadly, the situation on Mental Health has taken a nosedive across most countries during the crisis. Portugal’s starting point wasn’t favourable, and when closely compared to other European countries, studies show that Portugal has had some of the highest depression rates in Europe. Furthermore, the number of people consuming anxiety drugs or antidepressants is one of the highest in comparison to other of its member states.

With a small population of 10.5 million people in Portugal, 1.4 million of those have needed to take on the role of being informal carers to family members. This exacerbates circumstances that increase levels of burnout and creates a snowball effect resulting in loss of productivity and engagement. As we know, this has a negative impact on the economic and social structures of the country.

Health is a prerequisite for economic growth, sustainable development and without it everything will collapse in a domino effect. One of the biggest paradigm shifts that we need to move towards is Mental health and Wellbeing not being viewed as some kind of charity and understanding that health systems need to move  away from just focusing on disease but focusing on the wellbeing of the people and creating healthy environments where people can actually thrive.

One of the Government’s roles is ensuring the happiness, wellness and quality of life for the people.  That said, organisations should play their part in facilitating this as well. Governments and businesses should be working together  with the understanding that healthy workplaces are mutually beneficial, not only for the employee and the company they work for, but for the country at large. A healthy work population will not burden the health services as heavily, it will be more productive and most importantly – it will be happier.

It is important that we all acknowledge what Mental Health issues are, acknowledge the warning signs and know how to ask for help. Most importantly, make sure that the help is made available.


Fernanda Martinez
Productivity & Wellbeing Director at Bessern

Watch the conversation in full below:

Fernanda Martinez

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