Picture showing Roger Staub in the interview
echo interview, January 2022

Employees’ mental health a success factor for companies


echo interview with Roger Staub

echo interview with Roger Staub, Managing Director of the Pro Mente Sana Foundation

elipsLife echo: Pro Mente Sana was founded in 1978 as a Swiss foundation to support the interests of the mentally challenged. Can you briefly describe the foundation’s work?
Roger Staub: Since its inception, Pro Mente Sana has been committed to furthering the rights of people suffering mental stress. We advise and support those affected as well as their relatives and train lay people in first aid courses. In addition, we educate the wider population and increase their awareness of this topic. 

Who uses the services Pro Mente Sana provides?

Mentally disadvantaged people visit us at our meeting place, Nordliecht. These are individuals living on the fringes of society. Our telephone counselling is open to all affected persons, their relatives and also professionals. Community social service professionals are also seeking our advice ever more frequently. The first aid courses are attended by those wanting to help the mentally unwell in their immediate environment. Our awareness campaign «How are you?» is aimed at the general population and resonates with young people especially.

How is your organisation structured?
Pro Mente Sana is a foundation. We work in a trialogue, that is to say, affected persons, relatives and specialists work together on an equal footing. In terms of financing, we work on behalf of the Federal Social Insurance Office (BSV). We advise and accompany mentally challenged people and also run our meeting place for them. In addition, we seek financing for our projects through fundraising and generate income with our own services such as lectures, seminars, workshops and the first aid courses. Money is an ongoing issue for us because the willingness to donate is low due to widespread prejudice. 

Can you elaborate on that?
We often hear statements like «I'm not going to donate to crazy people». We’re fighting this attitude with lobbying activities and political education. We want to break the taboo of mental illness and help people talk openly about the subject. 

Picture showing Roger Staub in a discussion

Is the taboo surrounding mental illness so great?
Yes, sufferers immediately feel that they are talked about disparagingly. That's why those suffering from mental stress try everything to hide their problem, also out of fear of losing their job. However, the longer mental distress goes untreated, the worse the prognosis and the more expensive the treatment. Mild depression is easy to cure, but severe depression usually means hospitalisation, job loss and massive problems in relationships. 

The pace of work is increasing. Many employees suffer from stress, which leads to lost productivity for companies. Isn't it in employers' best interest to invest in the health of their workforce?

The mental health of the workforce will become a crucial success factor for companies over the next ten years. According to a new study by Deloitte, those companies that do something about it can achieve a return on investment (ROI) of at least 5:1. Every franc invested in mental health can potentially generate five in return - in the form of avoided costs and enhanced work performance. Employees who aren’t sick work better, it’s as simple as that.

Your website states that over 1 million people in Switzerland take medication for depression, anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses. Has the Covid pandemic exacerbated the situation?

Clearly, studies already show that young people in particular suffer massively. Those who were already mentally unwell before Covid are now even worse off. But the focus is on 16- to 25-year-olds, among whom severe depression has risen by a factor of 4 from 7% before the pandemic to around 30% at present. One in three young people is depressed, and the waiting times for treatment are unconscionably long. This is a scandal! 

What consequences do you fear?

Depression is always accompanied by suicidal thoughts. So, if four times as many young people are depressed, this could mean four times as many suicides. It’s really scary to see how the Federal Council and Parliament are reacting today. In two years, the Federal Council will present a report on the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of young people. And this study will reveal an increase in suicides by a factor of four. But no doubt the Federal Council will again be «completely surprised» at the increase in suicides among young people.

Picture showing Roger Staub

Is the home office significant in this connection?
Yes, it is. That said, this development has a more serious impact on those who were already suffering. Take a family with two children: Both parents in a small apartment in the home office, the children stressing them out with their homework and just by being there. There’s no escape, no rest – an intolerable situation! For the better off, on the other hand, home office can be wonderful: spacious apartment, no time wasted commuting, and even the video can be turned off during zoom sessions. The fact is that during the Covid crisis, those who were already doing well have tended to do even better. 

any companies have espoused the cause of occupational health management. How do you assess their activities in the area of care management?
In the case of psychological stress, early reaction is better, more promising and ultimately cheaper. That's why we welcome any activity in companies designed to identify and clarify mental illnesses at an earlier stage. We see interesting initiatives in this context, especially on the part of insurers providing daily sickness benefits.

Where do you see weaknesses?

Case management often does a good job. But if the responsibility is then transferred to another agency, for example the Disability Insurance (DI), everything starts all over again. The support falls into a hole. We used to have overlapping social insurance systems. Today, because of the pressure to save money, the insurance systems pull back and invest a lot of time and legions of lawyers to justify why they are not responsible in a specific case. This behaviour leads to gaps in the system. Instead of help, affected young people get bad grades, drop out of school and drop out of apprenticeships. This is how young adults end up in DI at the age of 25. This is tragic because these individuals face a bleak existence on the fringes of society. The fact that we as a society put up with this situation and at the same time complain about the shortage of skilled workers makes me angry.

Let's move on to old-age provisioning. As part of the latest pension system reform, Parliament has decided to raise the retirement age for women to 65. What are your views on this?
For me, raising the retirement age for women to 65 is part of equal rights. But, equally, to comply with this principle, the retirement age for men could have been lowered to that of women. I think the retirement age of 65 is fundamentally wrong. Not for financial reasons, but because of fitness. There are professions for which a retirement age 65 is much too late and there are others for which such an age is too early. By blindly sticking to a fixed age, we are losing enormous potential in experienced professionals. 

The reform of the 2nd pillar is also up for discussion. A reduction in the conversion rate is intended to slow down the redistribution from young to old. Where do you see the priorities in the reorganisation of the 2nd pillar?

Redistributing the burden from the young to the old is wrong. The way the quality of life has developed over the past 50 years is unique. There are hardly any reasons why young people should now pay the pensions of the «baby boomer» generation, which has benefited immensely from this development.

Should pensioners also participate in the BVG restructuring, or are acquired pension entitlements a no-go area?
In principle, I don’t rule out their participation. However, we shouldn’t forget that many of the people who will retire in the near future have already been affected by the restructuring through the reductions in the conversion rate in the non-mandatory part. It remains to be seen whether adjustments to the pensions paid will be necessary at a later date. At all events, we must ensure that any future reform doesn’t negatively impact those who already have little. 

Picture of Roger Staub
Personal Profile
Roger Staub
Managing Director of the Pro Mente Sana Foundation

Born in 1957, Roger Staub grew up in Sternenberg in the canton of Zurich as the son of a cheesemaker. He graduated as a secondary school teacher in Zurich. In 1985, he co-founded the Swiss AIDS Federation. In 1986, he moved to Bern to join the first AIDS team at the Federal Office of Public Health. Subsequently, he dedicated about 30 years of his life to HIV prevention. During this time, he earned a master's degree in public health and a master's degree in applied ethics. Staub has been executive director of the Pro Mente Sana Foundation since 2017. Staub lives with his partner in Zurich, is an avid sailor and was president of the Swiss Sailing Association for seven years. He is now president of the Historic Lake Zurich Boats Foundation.

echo interview with Roger Staub


With our annual donation to Pro Mente Sana, elipsLife makes an active contribution to the issue of mental health, because it is something that affects all of us. elipsLife also helps employers look after the health of their staff with a range of different offers in areas including mental health.