Worker health checks to cover depression

The health ministry plans to make mental health checks mandatory in regular health examinations given at the workplace, health minister Akira Nagatsuma said Monday.

The step is aimed at preventing depression and suicide, problems that have been making headlines in recent years, he said.

A ministry task force, formed in January, is expected to propose adding mental health checkups in its interim report to be released soon.

The ministry will consider revising the Industrial Safety and Health Law or related ministry ordinances.

Businesses are required under the law to give their employees at least one health examination a year. Those violating the law are subject to a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($5,450).

Related rules require blood pressure, liver function and blood sugar checks to be included, but there is no clear stipulation about mental health examinations.

In fiscal 2008, 927 applications for workers’ compensation were filed for depression and other mental ailments, of which 269 were approved.

The number of applications was more than four times greater than in fiscal 2000 and that of approved cases was seven times greater than in the same period, according to the ministry.